Your First Email Is Your Most Important Email

Email Marketing

The process of developing and distributing that first email in an automated program can be difficult. Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start, which subject line and CTAs to use, and how to speak to the prospect in a way that will keep them engaged throughout the sales cycle — with the hope of eventually transforming them from a promising lead to a loyal customer and brand ambassador.

Today we’re going to discuss how sending a compelling first email can increase open rates by as much as 200% and average conversion rates of roughly 45%. But before we get into the specifics of drafting and sending the perfect introductory email, we’re going to cover a few best practices around ensuring email deliverability and avoiding the “Spam” folder.

How to Ensure Your Emails Aren’t Labeled “Spam”

As my colleague, Helen Veyna, recently wrote, “Email is one of the most powerful tools us marketers have at our disposal, but it can only help us generate results if our messages land in the inbox and, more importantly, stay out of the spam folder.” So how do we make sure our emails are being delivered to our intended recipients’ inbox when we want them to? Let’s examine the three most critical elements involved in reaching your desired email destination.

Using Quality Data

The exciting, clever, and compelling content of your emails will never see the light of day if you’re not implementing data collection best practices when curating your email lists. This means developing lists organically through quality SEO practices, demand generation campaigns, and social media outreach — as opposed to the cardinal sin of digital marketing automation: purchasing your lists from third-parties.

To ensure inboxing, everyone on your list must have voluntarily opted-in (better yet, double opted-in — discussed further below) to receive messages from your organization, and each of those addresses must be active, meaning the email is still in use. You should also have clear and direct “Unsubscribe” options listed prominently on each of your emails to give your recipients the chance to cease receiving your messages. If not, they’ll just begin marking your emails as “Spam,” which is a no-win situation for everyone.

Segmenting Your Audiences

Your sender reputation is highly influenced by engagement and goes a long way toward reaching your inboxing goals, so you need to make sure you’re sending targeted messaging to specific audiences who are legitimately interested in what you have to say. If you’re sending irrelevant information to disinterested parties, those emails are doomed before they’re sent. Instead, you need to segment your audiences so you can create and send personalized messages to people who actually want to learn more about your products and services.

By opting-in to receive messages from your organization, your audience segments were implicitly agreeing to a set expectation that doing so would benefit them. Don’t let them down. Segment your audience using a powerful marketing automation platform, tailor your messaging to meet those audiences’ expectations, and drive engagement with consistent emails that benefit both sender and recipient.

Provide a Clear Path to Opt-Out of Emails

We mentioned this above, but it bears repeating: you must make it clear and easy for unsatisfied recipients to opt-out of your emails. Holding them captive wastes your resources, damages your reputation, and forces recipients to take drastic measures (i.e., label your emails as “Spam”). When the spam rates increase, your reputation takes a hit, and repairing a damaged reputation is extremely difficult and time-consuming, so it’s best to follow best practices from the start to avoid headaches further down the road.

In some cases, recipients might not necessarily want to cease all communication; they just need a little break — or might only want to receive information about specific products or services. One proven solution that benefits everyone is to provide a link to a landing page where the fatigued recipient can update their preferences regarding the type and frequency of emails they want to receive. Once you have this information, continue to segment accordingly — if done correctly, you’ll be back in their good graces before too long.

Best Practices for the First Email in a Drip Campaign (Automated Program)

Okay, now that all that dirty business is cleared up, let’s focus on motivating this new, eager audience. To wit, we’re going to concentrate our discussion on jogging your prospects’ memories, setting expectations from the outset, and making absolutely sure you’re delivering emails to an interested audience.

Verify That Your Prospects Truly Want to Hear from You

As we discussed above, your list of contacts should only include addresses that were generated organically and with an explicit opt-in disclaimer. If so, you’re likely dealing with a 95% clean list of individuals who actually want to hear from you — which is great! But if you want to push that number to 100%, you need to include a double opt-in checkbox in your first email. This will confirm each contact’s identity while also giving them the opportunity to confirm they want to hear more from you.

In addition to adding a prominent and direct double opt-in checkbox, you should also include brief directions about what to do if the email was, in fact, sent in error. For instance, “If you received this message in error, you can either disregard or click here to indicate that you received this email erroneously.”

Remind Your Audience Who You Are and Why You’re Emailing Them

Even if you send your email within mere minutes of your prospect completing a form and adding themselves to your list, they’re not likely to recognize who you are or why you’re emailing them if you don’t provide a little context. This means explicitly stating those details in your subject line (e.g., “Thanks for Your Interest in Act-On!”), using a clear identifier in your “From” address and display name, and providing pertinent information in the preview text of the email e.g., “It was so nice to meet you at our annual ‘Marketing Automation’ conference last weekend!”).

Following the double opt-in section (see above), you should provide baseline details about your company, its mission, and its products and services within the first couple of paragraphs of the email itself. Without getting too far ahead of yourself, you might want to add a link to your home or “About Us” page. Or, if you already have a good idea of what sort of content they’re interested in based on the information they provided when they completed the opt-in form, you might want to send them toward a relevant eBook or service area page.

Don’t overwhelm them with content, but gently remind them who you are, why you’re reaching out, and how your company can provide solutions to the problems they’re experiencing.

Prepare Your Email Recipients for What’s to Come

Another important element of that first email, and one that’ll pay serious dividends over the lifetime of the campaign, is preparing your audience for the sort of content that you’ll be sending them over the next few weeks, months, or even years. What should they expect to see? Blogs? eBooks? Case studies? Will they be receiving special offers, promotions, or invitations to digital and in-person events? And which topics will you be discussing? Make sure to first establish yourself as a thought leader in your space before circling the discussion back to who you are and what you provide. Reassure your audience that you’ll be sending relevant, useful information that will help them better understand your industry, not just your offerings.

You should also give them a rough idea of how often you’ll be messaging them so they know when to check their inboxes and aren’t surprised when they do hear from you. Cadences will vary based on industry, purpose, and overall content marketing strategy, but don’t space out your emails too far apart, or you’ll have to completely reintroduce yourself and begin building trust all over again. If they’re going to hear from you on a weekly basis, let them know! If it might be less frequent (which is totally fine), but tell them that so they’re not surprised or confused when your messages arrive in their inbox. The general rule of thumb here is to be as transparent and open as possible. By setting clear expectations, you dissuade the recipient from tossing your emails in the “Spam” folder due to any disconnects about intent, frequency, or value.

If you still have questions about best practices, tips, and techniques for sending that first email, please download the 6th chapter in our Deliverability 101 series, There’s No Second Chance at a First Impression.

Or, if you’d like to start from the beginning, you can download the first chapter here.