(This post was originally published on November 10th, 2016 and has been updated to be even more amazing!)
If you’re like most people, you probably receive at least some marketing emails, perhaps from a clothing store at which you once shopped or a newsletter to which you subscribed. While the content of marketing emails varies, many tend to have something in common.
They arrive as HTML emails with logos, headers, and other attractive design elements—and for good reason. Marketing emails are about creating engagement. And according to a recent survey of 1,000 business professionals by HubSpot and Litmus, 64% of respondents said they preferred HTML-based emails over plain-text emails.
To improve your practice marketing, you may feel that you and your team don’t have the time, expertise, or resources to create attractive HTML emails. You and your team are naturally more focused on providing excellent healthcare for pets. In contrast, many marketing companies have entire teams with the design skills and tools to create HTML emails—and all day to create them. But that doesn’t mean that creating HTML emails is difficult or time-consuming. With drag-and-drop design apps now as readily available as coffee and donuts, engaging and well-designed emails are well within your grasp.
All you do is sign up for an email marketing service.
Don’t worry. It won’t cost you a cent.
Yes, there are plenty of email marketing services that cost money, and even some of the free ones have upgrades that can cost money. But for your practice, the free or near-free services of an email marketing service should be all that you need.
Which service should you use?
While there are many email marketing services from which to choose, our favorite is Mailchimp. With over 100 free pre-designed but customizable email templates and a drag-and-drop email builder, creating attractive and engaging emails is a breeze. The service is free up to 2,000 contacts across all audiences in your account. (Subscribed, unsubscribed, and non-subscribed contacts count toward your audience limit.) You can send up to 12,000 emails per month, and you can send up to 2,000 emails within any 24-hour period. Optimized for mobile, the free version of Mailchimp integrates with over 200 apps and comes with 30 days of email support.
Another great choice is MailerLite. Like Mailchimp, MailerLite features an email template gallery and a drag-and-drop editor to quickly and easily create emails, plus a built-in photo editor. To grow your email list, the free plan includes the ability to build landing pages and has embedded sign-up forms and pop-up subscriber forms. You can use MailerLite for free for your first 1,000 subscribers and can send up to 12,000 emails per month. The free plan also includes video tutorials and 24/7 email support. MailerLite may be a little less user-friendly to first-time email marketers than other email marketing services. Yet it’s still a great option.
Our final recommendation is VerticalResponse. While they only offer a free trial of their email marketing services for 60 days, their basic plan starts at $11 per month for 500 email subscribers or less. (The VerticalResponse website includes a simple tool to calculate price based on subscribers.) All VerticalResponse plans include an easy-to–use email editor with time-saving email templates, flexible layouts, and pre-formatted content blocks. Templates are customizable and mobile-responsive, and all VerticalResponse plans include access to their image library, contact list management, stand-alone landing page creation, customizable pop-up forms, and more.
A few key things to know before getting started.
Use images sparingly. Most email programs block automatic image downloads by default, which could cause recipients to delete your emails or mark them as spam. Image-heavy emails can also raise a red flag for spam filters, and the goal of any marketing email is naturally to make it into someone’s inbox.
Also, image-light emails perform better than image-heavy emails. According to studies by Prolmpact 7, clickthrough rates for a basic HTML email were 194% better when compared to the same email with richer visuals. Similarly, research by HubSpot found that the more HTML-rich an email was, the lower its open rate. As a general guideline, Mailchimp recommends a ratio of 80% text to 20% visuals in an email.
Design for accessibility. According to the World Health Organization, there are 285 million people globally with visual impairment who may use a screen reader to access web content. These assistive devices use page elements to navigate web and email content and read text aloud. So, accessible content isn’t about convenience. It’s about necessity.
A few best practices for accessible emails:
- Use descriptive subject lines so readers know what to expect if they open your email.
- Use color contrast. Effective color contrast in emails is always a good design choice, but it’s especially important to people with color blindness. Stick to one text color and one contrasting background color.
- Don’t maroon information in images. People who use a screen reader or have images blocked in their email are not going to see information if it exclusively exists in images or infographics. Make sure that critical information contained within images is also presented in text.
- Use alt text (or, alternative text), which is a brief description of an image that’s displayed when a subscriber can’t view your images. Alt text should be short but descriptive and focus on the relevance of the image to your email message.
Test your emails. If you asked someone to create an HTML email for you, you would likely test the email to see whether it displays properly before sending it to anyone else. So, do the same with an email designed through an email marketing service. Send the email to yourself. Check that the design displays properly. Test links to make sure they work as expected and double-check spelling and grammar in your content.
There you have it. By using an email marketing service and following a few best practices for design, you’ll soon be on your way toward improving your practice email marketing.