In the last few months I’ve talked quite a bit about email marketing and how powerful it can be, from looking at how to write the perfect nurture sequence, to how to setup an effective lead generation system. But there’s one huge remaining aspect that we haven’t looked at yet, and that’s how to boost engagement on your list.

Engagement is super-important in pretty much every area of digital marketing. You want to engage your audience on your blog, on social media, on your vlog or podcast, and on your email list.

Everywhere there’s a point of contact between you and your audience, you want them as engaged as possible.

An engaged list is far less likely to unsubscribe, far more likely to find the content and offers you send them interesting, and far more likely to buy – and buy repeatedly.

Unlike the other aspects of content marketing that are predominantly inbound and largely passive, like social media and SEO, email marketing is an outbound and proactive tactic.

The catch is that it is only effective if your list is engaged. So let’s look at some practical ways you can make sure your subscribers are as engaged as possible…

#1 Tell Stories

The most engaging thing you can do in any piece of content is tell stories. Email marketing is no different. Whether you’re emailing out your weekly newsletter, or sending a sales pitch, add a story to it.

For example, I often tell a bit of a ‘what’s going on this week’ story when I send out my newsletter. It may only be a sentence or two, or a more detailed tale, but I always try to work in a bit of a personal anecdote.  

Stories are an incredibly powerful aspect of marketing because they connect with people on a very deep level. Stories make you relatable, and people instinctively want to respond to them with stories of their own. They help you build trust with your audience and allow them to really get to know you.

The beauty of stories is that they’re so easily included in your content. Think about what you’re sharing, and what you’re trying to achieve. Then think of a time something happened to you that was relevant. You might use a story as an analogy, or simply explain how it is you came to develop a product or service, or ended up writing/talking about the particular subject of a piece of content.

Telling stories to your email list is also a great way of making sure your subscribers get some exclusive stuff from you. If all you’re doing is sending the same content and offers they can see on your website and social media, there’s no incentive for them to stay on your list. They’re not gaining anything by it, and it doesn’t make them feel special.

When you tell them a story it’s like confiding in a friend. It makes them feel special, as if they’re worthy of your confidence and trust, which in turn makes them trust you, like you, and value you all the more.

It’s also a great way to show you’re human and just as fallible as they are – share your mistakes and struggles, as well as your successes. Tell them how you struggled to build you business, and what you have done that succeeded.

#2 Write Powerful Headlines

Your subscribers can’t engage if they never open your emails, so putting a lot of effort into your subject lines is crucial.

I’ve spoken before about the power of a truly effective headline, and the importance of ensuring you follow through on the promise of that headline.

This is just as true on your email as it is on your blog posts or social media.

Arguably the most important line in any email is the headline, or subject line.

It’s the difference between a sunbscriber opening your email, ignoring it, or immediately deleting it. Research has demonstrated that 33% of email recipients will open an email based on nothing but the subject line. That’s a full third of your list opening up your mail because you wrote a great headline.

Start paying attention to the subject lines that get you to open the emails in your own inbox. There are also a few rules of thumb that tend to work really well:

  • Ask a question
  • Be really specific
  • Keep it short!
  • Create a sense of urgency
  • Use lowercase
  • Personalise where possible

The last one is surprisingly effective, boosting your open rate by as much as 22.2%.

Another great way to improve your headlines is to split test them. Come up with two really great headlines for your email, and use an A/B testing method to see which is more popular. Make sure they have a distinct difference, for example, phrase one as a question and the other as a statement, or include the recipient’s name in one but not the other. You can experiment across your whole list, or specific segments – you may find different things work best for different segments of your list.

#3 Polish Your Design

Emails are easy to ignore if they’re difficult to read, unremarkable, or suffer from poor design. Keep your designs on brand, crisp and clear, but don’t be afraid to get a little creative.

A simple header image can add a little bit of style to your email without cluttering it. Including eye-catching, relevant images is also a good idea.

And if you have a call to action to buy a product or service, book a call, or download a freebie, including a photograph of the item or yourself along with a button will help people take the action you want.

The most important aspect where design is concerned is to ensure it’s fully responsive, as at least 68% of emails are opened on mobile devices.

#4 Create Personalised Emails

I mentioned personalisation briefly and for good reason. The rise of automated marketing, segmentation, and third-party integrations have made personalising email easier than ever. It’s worth testing this on your audience, as you may find some members of your tribe appreciate it and others dislike it. But generally speaking your subscribers will appreciate that you have taken the time to send them content that is most relevant to them.

If you’re worried about alienating people by using personalisation methods, use one that isn’t obvious. Including a tag that adds everyone’s first name to an email is one way to go about personalising it, but since most people realise you’re not sending these out individually, it’s an illusion you’re creating that isn’t always very effective.

Given the slightest technical glitch can lead to your email actually showing [FirstName] rather than your reader’s actual name, it’s even more problematic. Rather than making your subscribers feel more important, this kind of personalisation can backfire and have the opposite effect.

#5 Segment Your List

A better way to personalise the emails you send is to segment your list and send bespoke content to different segments. This will allow you to create very personalised and targeted email campaigns based on demographics, or the specific type of content that people subscribed for.

If you have accurate data and effectively tag your subscribers when they signup, this can be very effective.

For example, if you have a lead magnet that links to a specific topic, tagging people signing up allows you to create a segment on your list for readers interested in that topic. You can then send them more content directly related to what you know they’re interested in, as well as tailored offers.

Studies have shown that using a combination of segmentation and targeted personalisation will increase the revenue generated by email marketing by up to 760%, so it’s well worth doing!

The more data you have on your subscribers the more targeted your marketing can get, so including opportunities for them to fill in questionnaires giving you extra info is a great way to tailor your content even further.

Just remember, when you’re storing personal information about people they need to be reassured you won’t share it with anyone, that it’s secure, and have an easy way of removing themselves (and their associated information!) from your list whenever they choose.

Recommended Reading: How To Use Segmentation, Targeting And Positioning For Easy Growth

#6 Automate Your Email Marketing

Another great way to boost engagement on your list is to create consistency and regularity in the contact you have with your subscribers. The easiest way to do this is through automation.

Automated nurture sequences are a definite must-have for new subscribers, but they can also be effective for existing customers as well. If you roll out a new product or service you can create a new nurture sequence introducing it to your list, or specific segments of your list you know will be interested.

Having a great automation system in place also makes it a lot easier to send out regular newsletters, updates and offers, and enables you to decide on set days and times each week that work best.

Scheduling emails in ahead of time creates greater efficiency on your end, and far better consistency in your readers’ inboxes.

Recommended Reading: Top 4 Business Systems To Automate And How To Do It

#7 Add Social Sharing Buttons

Including social sharing buttons in your email is a super-simple way to get a lot of great benefits. You can boost your click through rate by as much as 158% using social sharing, and while your readers may not be interested in your offers or content they may know other people who are and forward your emails on.

This is a simple and very effective way to boost your word of mouth marketing, so make it as easy as possible – a simple bar at the top or bottom of your content with an icon linking out to your social platforms is ideal. This will also extend the reach of your email campaigns into the social realms, so it’s win-win!

#8 Focus On Your Call To Action

Whenever you send an email it’s really important to have a clear objective in mind. What exactly are you hoping your readers will do?

Engagement depends on your readers taking action, either by clicking through to your website, booking a call, buying a product, scheduling a service, or simply sharing your content on to someone else.

But the thing about taking action is, readers aren’t psychic. If you want them to do something specific, like buy something, or book a call, you need a very clear call to action encouraging them to do that specific thing.

Generally speaking your CTA will be the very last thing in your email, and it’s easy to tag one on as an afterthought, or think that including a few links throughout your email is all the encouragement people need.

It’s not.

They need that little nudge to click the link, book the call, or buy your offer.

So even though your CTA is only a small part of your email, the whole email should naturally build to it, so that by the time you ask people to do something it’s a total no-brainer.

It’s easy for them to engage and take the action you want, because you’ve laid out a clear path and lots of great reasons to do exactly that in your email.

#9 Timing Is Everything

Certain days of the week will work better for sending emails, and certain times on that day will get better results.

Tracking your open rates in campaigns will give you some really valuable data on what time of day you get the best results. You can experiment and split test using a simple A/B method to tell you when you’ll get the best results.

There aren’t really any set rules where this is concerned, as the right time for you is entirely dependent upon your industry, your ideal clients, and your list, so have a play around until you find what works best.

For example if you’re marketing to corporates or businesses, send your emails on weekdays between 10am and4.30pm so your message is actually seen, and not culled in the bulk email dump first thing in the morning. If, on the other hand, you’re marketing to stay-at-home-mums try after 7.30pm when kids are likely to be in bed and mum finally has some alone time to check in on emails and social media etc.

In addition to the days you send out emails and the times you use, the frequency with which you email your list is also important. Some subscribers will respond better to regular contact a few times a week, or even daily. Other readers will prefer to get a single blast from you once a week, or even less frequently.

Generally speaking sending at least one email a week is best-practice, as it keeps you front-of mind, but play around with this too until you find what works best. You can even ask your list outright by creating a poll and encouraging them to tell you how often they’d like to see you in their inbox, and what they’d like you to send.

#10 Vary The Types Of Emails You Send

Like so many areas of marketing, email doesn’t come with a one-size-fits-all template. Your list will respond better if you send different types of emails to meet different needs.

For example, when they first subscribe an email welcoming them to your list and delivering any optin offer they were promised is a great start. Newsletters delivering your latest content and thoughts of the week are also a really good idea. You may also send sales emails, or create nurture sequences triggered by specific actions from people on your list, such as visiting a particular page on your website, or signing up for a certain optin.