As Good as It Gets: What dating can teach us about email marketing.

The greatest thing about email marketing is how direct the communication is. Email is the closest you can get to dating your customers. Creepy? Maybe a little. Intrusive? Not if you do it right.

Why bother with email? (Reasons to take the leap)

People sign up for emails because they want the inside scoop. They want to be the first to know about a new product or service, a breaking news story in your industry, or some tidbit of culture that they’ll relate to.

That means you’re talking directly to a specific group of people who actually WANT to hear from you. But you have to send emails that are interesting, compelling, and/or useful, or they’ll drop from your list like ice cream from a toddler’s cone.

Research your audience (Cyberstalking is sometimes okay)

How well you get to know your audience will determine how many of your emails get opened and how long your customers stay on your list.

Start with the basic raw data you have from the customer and from your own research. You know more than you think. Anything your customer does online can be related to email (almost).

For instance, SEO: Use searched keywords, phrases and questions to determine your next newsletter content. Take a look at which products are searched for during each month, and build seasonal email specials around your findings. And if your customers are searching for a term or product, send it directly to their inboxes. Learn more about the integration between SEO and email here.

Scheduling matters. Alter your sending time to suit the specific schedule your audience lives by. If your audience is new moms, they will probably check their email in the early morning (on their phone before the kids get up), or from about 12-3 (on the computer during nap time). Purchase time is usually during the afternoon lull.

Pro tip: Research yourself as a consumer. Pay attention to the emails you receive from companies, which you like, which you don’t, and why. Start a folder of cool emails and think about what they have in common. Are the designs cool with little copy, or do they look more like traditional newsletters? Yes, it’s nerdy. Do it.

Now that you know what your audience wants, where do you begin? Let’s build an email list.

Strategy: Building/optimizing a list (Your little black book)

What is the ultimate goal of your email campaign? Let’s say you want people to buy your Puppy-hugger-while-you’re-away-so-he-won’t-be-lonely-inator. Great. So a purchase is your ultimate goal, with an interim goal of expanding your loyal customer base.

Building your list depends on the type of campaign you want to run.

New campaigns (The new girl)

If you’re looking for new customers, try an (onsite, banner or PPC) ad campaign and then collect the customer’s email address when they purchase the product. Since they’re new customers, just send a few emails to whet their appetite.

Pro tip: Sending a limited amount of emails at scheduled intervals is called an email drip campaign. Read more details about email drip campaigns here.

If you want to retain those customers and build brand loyalty, an ongoing email campaign is best. Even if your customers don’t open your emails, they see your company’s name in their inbox on a regular basis, which will pay off when they’re looking for a puppy-hugger.

But how do you get people to sign up for emails before they buy your product?

  • An email signup box needs to be either in the header or footer of every page on your site. Period. Don’t make customers search for your email campaign.
  • Place an email signup box at the bottom of each blog post and at the bottom of your About Us page. Check out great tips on building an email list here.

Existing campaigns (The girl next door)

If you’re building off a current campaign, you still need to do your research. The good news is that you have lots of data. Look at how the current email list was built, what worked, what didn’t, and where you want to go from here. Look at what emails caused unsubscribes and high bounce rates. Look at day and time of day reporting, and create your strategy based on what works best for your audience.

Is your current campaign speaking directly to your target market? What does the audience want to know about? Look at Google Analytics and your Email Service Provider reports. You can learn a lot about where these users went on the site, what their activity was for each email, etc. Take your time and soak up the reporting. The girl next door is telling you a lot about what she wants in a relationship, you just have to interpret it all. Read more about this under “Testing” below.

Design (Choosing your duds)

All emails should be responsive, without exception. How many emails have you received on your phone that you couldn’t read or could read only parts of? Create and save templates (Photoshop and HTML) that are mobile-friendly so they will be readable for your subscribers who open them on their mobile phones (which is about 50%).

NOTE: There is not an email template that has been created yet that works with 100% of all smartphones or tablets. There are 10-15% of smartphone users who have unique applications that we can’t get a mobile friendly newsletter to work with.

But even if your date likes the way you look, you still need to keep her attention. Compel your audience! Interactive content, videos, or useful tools will keep them coming back again and again. The more interactive the email, the more engaged your reader will be.

Content (Remember: they’re just not that into you)

When writing content, assume your audience is dating other people. You want to be mysterious yet engaging. Remember, email is your first date. Be honest and positive, and leave them wanting more.

Pro tip: Size counts! In general, shorter subject lines are better. In Obama’s online campaign, one of their most popular emails had the subject line of three letters: “Hey.”

  • Subject lines. The first step is to get people to open your emails. Duh. The subject line has to speak directly to your audience and be appealing enough to engage them. 33% of email recipients open email based on subject line alone. Learn more email marketing stats here.
  • Be scan-able. Create content that gets to the point quickly and is also entertaining. I know you’re not reading this entire post from beginning to end, and you might not even if you were paid to. And that’s okay.
    Some readers might be reading your emails just to be polite (ridiculous but true). Make your point early and often enough for a reader to get the point by scanning, but interesting enough for them to be engaged the whole way through.
  • Engage backwards. Think about what your end goal for each email is, and work backwards from there. Let’s say it’s Christmas time and you want to share that epic video of kids getting puppies for Christmas. Start writing with the end result (puppy Christmas video) in mind, and share it with your subscribers as if they were your friends. Let the call to action determine the tone, design, etc.

Legal stuff (Don’t be a creep)

A strong email list is full of people who WANT to be there. Make email sign-up options obvious so that you only get people who are actually interested in your company. 1,000,000 subscribers who were tricked into being on your list will not give you the ROI that 1,000 people who are psyched about your brand will.

Pro tip: Don’t buy email lists! Build your lists organically. Buying lists is a great way to get tagged as spam.

Here’s how to make sure you have a good, legal list:

  • One way to ensure quality leads is the double opt-in. When someone signs up, send them a “please confirm your address” email. When they click through that email, you know you have someone who really wants to be on your list.
  • Include an optional unsubscribe link on every email. Don’t hide it in tiny text or a giant footer paragraph. Put it plainly in the footer. If someone doesn’t want to be on your list, allow them to leave. It only makes your list stronger.
  • Include the physical address of your company in the footer of every email. It confirms your company’s legitimacy, and can help keep you out of the spam folders.

For more tips on keeping it legal, check out this article.

Spam filters (Her overprotective father)

You always know a good date from a bad date: A good one leaves you wanting more, a bad one tells you about past relationships right off the bat. It’s the same with email. If you’re using all caps or filling your emails with keywords and sales language, you might get thrown in the spam folder.

If you don’t know why you’re being tagged, send some emails to the meanest techy friend you know. They’ll tell you what to improve in your campaign and a few more tips on exactly what you’re doing wrong.

For more tips on avoiding spam filters, read this.

Testing (It’s not you, it’s me.)

Email campaigns are successful when they are optimized for user behavior. They allow you to change the subject line, design layout and elements, call to action, tone of copy, interactive aspects, the means of acquiring emails, time or day emails are sent; all to give readers exactly what they want.

The best way to get to know your audience is to review how they reacted to emails over time. Let’s send two emails to the same Puppy-hugger-while-you’re-away-so-he-won’t-be-lonely-inator list. The first will be on Sparky’s depression story with a link to your blog, and the next will be a special discount email. Pay attention to who interacts with each email, and start sending them emails that are more specific to their interests.

But tests don’t have to be that obvious. Test any and every aspect of the campaign (subject line, UX, CTA, button color, etc.). Use the results of each test to optimize your campaign and/or create multiple email lists based on user behavior.

Pro tip: Think about who your audience is and why they’re signing up. Did they buy something? What did they buy? Was it through a discount offer or was it the latest release? There should be multiple lists per specific audience.

You’ll never get it perfect simply because your audience is always changing. But every test will improve your understanding of your audience and optimize your email list, improving your ROI.

Here’s where to get all that gorgeous information.

Reporting (Introducing her to your friends)

Email Service Providers (ESP) (Your wingman)

Learn to love your ESP. If you are new to ESPs, sign in and play around with the graphs and reports. See what you can learn. What do the subscribers respond to? What time of day, day of week, subject line length, etc. seems to work best for your audience? ESPs can show you all of that. You just need to know where to look.

Pro tip: An open email doesn’t always mean an open email. An “open” email in reporting means that the images display on the user’s screen or they interact with the content. So if a customer opens the email and doesn’t allow the images to be displayed, it won’t count as an open email. The user could just open an email, peruse the content, and close it without interaction.

Google Analytics Reporting (Your nosy roommate)

GA reporting gives different information than your ESP. Your wingman knows what happens while on the date (that’s him in the corner looking creepily at you all night), and your roommate knows what happens after the date. GA will tell you where customers go on your site after clicking through from each campaign.

Of course, the revenue and ecommerce conversion rates are our favorite results to look at, but all aspects of GA reporting are whispering secrets about your audience.

Was she really that into you? Your ESP and GA reporting will let you know, but in order to get the juicy details, you need a little help from UTMs.

UTMs! (Pizza to bribe the roommate)

When you have numerous links in the same email to the same page (i.e. logo, text link, and footer), it’s useful to know which link is being clicked through. Tracking on each and every link is essential to great reporting and the subsequent optimization.

Google’s UTM builder gives a specific URL for each button. Use this tool for each link in each email, plugging the new URL into the code of the email (usually through your ESP). Now you know which buttons resonate with your audience so you can design to their needs and preferences.

Good luck out there, email marketers, and remember: email marketing is like dating. It can be hard to find the right date, but once you do, the relationship can last a lifetime as long as you keep them engaged.

Start call to action

See how Portent can help you own your piece of the web.

End call to action


  1. Hi Meegan,
    Your piece is very resourceful. I doubt if there is any email marketer that won’t find this piece very helpful.
    One thing I have realized after reading this piece is that successful email marketing can only be good if it is personalized for the audience.
    More so, the contents should always meet the information needs of the subscriber. Engagement is the key as it applies to keeping the right girl one meets in a date! 🙂
    Thanks for the dating analogy!
    This comment was left in where this post was shared, syndicated, aggregated, and socially bookmarked for Internet marketers.
    Sunday – contributor

  2. Interesting! Just in the process of starting to use email marketing in my business, so trying to learn as much as possible. Thanks for great info.

    1. Alexander,
      That’s great! Email marketing can do wonders for growing your business if you do it right. I’m glad you enjoyed this post. As a novice email marketer, be sure to research email list building tips online, and only send emails that truly speak to your audience.
      Best of luck!

  3. Thanks for sharing your insight there are not only some great tips here, but you’ve explained why they are useful. I’m not big on e-mail marketing, but what you’ve outlined above makes it sound a lot less intrusive than what I have found in the past. I think the idea about putting an e-mail subscription at the footer of every web page is a great idea and at least that way you will get people who actually want to subscribe, but I also think that including an unsubscribe at the bottom of each e-mail you send will make your company seem less creepy and needy. Brilliant.

    1. Hi Louise,
      Thanks for reading! You’re right – being upfront and honest is always the best policy. Customers notice when you are confident in your marketing, and it garners respect. An obvious (but not intrusive) signup option shows confidence, as does an unsubscribe link within the email that isn’t hidden or tiny. When you know that what you produce is high quality, you will build authority and loyalty from your customers.

  4. Hi Megan! It’s crazy how you relate the world of courtship and dating to internet marketing. But actually all of the things given are true. If we will just identify some of it, follow the tips and make everything into consideration, yours will be the success!
    But let me just add, Website maintenance is something that needs to be included as well. It’s like when you already got the girl but you still keep on pursuing her and ultimately winning her heart out.
    Thanks for this Meegan! Now I know how to court and date the girl that I like if only follow the steps the other way around. (LOL) Just kidding. Have a great day you!

    1. David,
      You are absolutely right. Everything your company does online should support a cohesive customer experience. Your customers won’t sign up for an email campaign if your website is a disappointment. From website design, UX, and content to offsite experiences such as social media and email, everything should have a consistent brand and voice.
      Thanks David for pointing out that courtship doesn’t stop with email marketing! Once you nab the girl (or customer), you have to continue building your relationship or it will falter. Best of luck with the ladies!

  5. Your analogy is good Meegan although I often see email marketing more like speed dating – you’ve got a fraction of a second as people scan their morning inbox for something that tickles their fancy.
    Personally I’ve subscribed to so many lists, looking for that elusive date is like scanning a football stadium and trying to spot a pretty girl!
    Finding new tricks to stand out from the crowd gets harder and harder.

Comments are closed.

Close search overlay