Creating a Strong Email Campaign

Updated by Justine Hong

To help you create strong email programs, we have compiled a list of common practices that other email professionals use to maintain healthy email programs.

Note that these are just recommendations. We want to empower you as the manager of your email program to do what is best for your program as a whole. Switchboard does not create or approve email content or require certain email tactics.

Have a clear audience, message, and goal for your email.
  • Best practice recommends having one clear message for your email – if you try to fit too many angles and topics into one email, you run the risk of overwhelming your audience.
  • Experts also recommend that your key message is tailored to your specific audience, if possible. Depending on your email list, different messages might resonate with different people. A/B testing can help you determine which messages work best for which segments
  • When you’re sending an email, try and have a clear goal that you want the recipients to accomplish! Ideally, you also want to be able to track your progress to goal; that will help you understand how effective your email was.
Have one clear call-to-action (CTA)
  • Multiple CTAs/asks in your email can overwhelm your audience, just like multiple topics can. Most organizations try to limit each email to having one CTA.
    • If you find yourself torn between CTAs, try segmentation. EX: You can send the same email to donors and volunteers with different CTAs
  • Occasionally, an email will have two CTAs but make sure both options are thoroughly explained and accessible to the audience.
Add some context and impact to your CTAs
  • Try explaining why taking that action will solve the issue you’re emailing about, or why someone needs to take that action immediately. People are busy, and they’re getting many emails asking for money – why should they donate to your cause? Explain where their dollars will go and how that money will be used, if you can.
  • Read more about crafting fundraising emails specifically
  • Another way you can think about crafting a CTA is by asking yourself: “What does this person need to hear to understand this issue and take action? Not what do I want to tell them about this issue, but what do they need to know?
Keep your emails simple and accessible
  • While there are no rules about how long your emails should be, many programs like to keep the sentences and paragraphs shorter to make the emails easier to read. On average, people only spend 7-8 seconds reading an email, so you have to make the first few lines of your email clear and engaging.
  • With the exception of newsletters, most email creators stick to 1-2 links in their emails (outside of the social media buttons in the bottom “footer” of the email). While it might be tempting to link out to every term or topic that you think your audience might find interesting, you run the risk of overwhelming them (like with multiple CTAs). If they click away to read your link, there’s a lower likelihood that they will return to your email to take action.
    • Please note: this suggestion does not apply to newsletters or other informational emails and is merely a suggestion. If you are having success with longer emails with multiple links, continue to do so.
Use bolding and line breaks effectively
  • Since people generally don’t spend long reading emails, having skimmable content can be effective. To accomplish this, many programs will use bolding and line breaks to make it easier for your eye to scan the main points.
  • If possible, be sure to add a tracking code to your links so you can track the actions taken as a result of your email. This will help you understand how effective your email was at mobilizing your audience.
  • Switchboard Email automatically tracks engagement with links throughout your email to allow you to use that information in future targeting.
    • We also allow you to build audiences on previous engagement, donor history, specific domains, and custom labels to ensure you are targeting effectively
Segment your audience to maintain program health
  • If your list is small or new, you likely don’t need to segment your list to start. But as you understand who is engaging with your email content through opening or clicking, be sure to segment out the people who aren’t engaging.
  • You can certainly send to less-engaged people from time-to-time, but best practice is to target the bulk of your emails to recent openers and/or clickers.
  • ​​Learn more about healthy email segmentation practices​
Avoid using graphics in place of CTAs
  • You can certainly include graphics in your emails, but most times, they don’t take the place of a clear, time-bound CTA.
  • Generally, you want people clicking on your ask to be motivated to take that action. People who click on graphics often do so to enlarge them. So if they click on a graphic to read it better and then get jumped to a landing page, they may not be a motivated actor.
Be sure to optimize your email for mobile, as well as desktop
  • In many cases, the majority of people reading your emails will do so from a mobile device. You want to make sure your email content, graphics, and landing pages are easily legible and usable on mobile
  • You can preview your email on a smaller screen in Switchboard’s email editor.
  • We recommend sending a test and reading the email on your phone as well.
  • Check out tools like Litmus and Email on Acid. These programs allow you to preview your email in multiple ESPs and on both mobile and desktop.
Spend time crafting your subject lines
  • Subject lines are often the hardest part of the email! Generally, programs want something short and eye-catching to stand out in the inbox – it doesn’t matter how good your email is if no one opens it.
  • That said, most experts recommend against deceptive subject lines, like spoofing a forwarded or replied to email, or an urgent alert from your electric company. Much like with clear CTAs, you want the people opening your email to be ready to take the action inside. If they think your email is an urgent bill or calendar invite from their work, they may feel tricked and be less likely to read your email, or may even mark you as spam.
  • Subject lines are a great place to run A/B tests.
    • You can easily create versions of your email in Switchboard to test different subject lines. If you want to do that, create your email then click “New Version” and duplicate your blast. Then, swap out the subject line and see which performs better after an hour or so.
    • Don’t forget that what works as a subject line one week may not work the next week. It’s important to always iterate and test to keep your list engaging.
Explore other senders
  • While the majority of your emails will come from your organization’s name, don’t forget about the power of additional senders, like someone within the organization or a candidate’s spouse.
  • First person emails can be really powerful – they allow you to dig deeper into issues, try new tactics, and add credibility to your argument.
    • First-person emails usually start with an intro as to who that person is and why they specifically are reaching out
  • When you’re using this new sender, be sure to keep the From email and Reply To email addresses the same, as they are tied to your domain. You are only changing the sender name that appears in the From section of the email
Create the plaintext emails, especially if your email includes graphics
  • The plaintext version of your email is important if an email provider, for whatever reason, does not render your HTML. This happens most often when there are graphics in your email. If you do not have a plaintext set, the email will show up as blank in the recipient’s inbox.
Have a robust quality assurance program
  • When your email is all loaded and ready to send, try to find a second set of eyes to look over it. It can be hard to see any issues with your email after doing all the work to create it (think of it like editing your own paper). Even if this person isn’t an email expert, having them read through a sample of your email and click all the links can help catch issues before you send.
A/B test….everything
  • Sadly, you can’t rely on the same structure or language every single time. You are competing for valuable real estate in someone’s inbox - your email subject line, structure, content, and CTA need to constantly engage your reader. Even when you find something that works, keep iterating on it.
  • To get ideas on what to test, how large tests should be to be significant, follow other campaigns and organizations in your space to see how they approach particular topics. The NerdyEmail listserve is another great place to follow tactics
Don’t: Forget to review the metrics
  • It’s important to consistently review your open and click rates to understand how your program is doing. These metrics will tell you which content is resonating, what tactics work best, and if you have any possible deliverability issues. Review your donation rates to understand how topics are resonating with your donors, and which emails are mobilizing small-vs-large dollar donations. Learn more about how to analyze email metrics here.

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