Email Marketing 101: What Is Email Marketing?

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Email Marketing 101 on chalkboardIn an age of information overload, email still tends to be one of the oldest and most effective tools for marketing your business. But what is email marketing exactly? It’s important to understand the terminology and some of the basics before you pick an email marketing service provider, design a template and create engaging campaigns. So, get ready to go back to the school of We Rock Your Web to learn more about email marketing 101.

What Is Email Marketing?

Email marketing in its most basic form is the process of utilizing electronic mail to promote products and services to a target audience. Email marketing can be utilized to share discounts, promotional products, special events, fundraising messages, solicit sales or simply to create brand awareness. While email communication between a small business and any potential or current customer could be considered email marketing, the purpose behind email marketing campaigns is always to improve business for the company.

Now that you know what email marketing is, let’s dive deeper into some of the more techy terms that go along with it.

Email Marketing Terminology

Some email marketing terms might sound like Greek when you first hear them. But don’t worry, as with any new topic, over time, you’ll start to get the hang of it as you begin using and applying these concepts to your own business. To help you out, we have prepared a comprehensive list of definitions that will equip you with the knowledge and expertise to implement successful email marketing campaigns. They are listed in alphabetical order, so feel free to read them all or jump around and go straight to the item you are looking for. And, you’ll note that many of the terms in the list below are referenced often in the email marketing reviews, so when you are ready to decide which platform is right or you, feel free to reference back to this article if you get lost or confused.

A/B Testing (Split Testing)

An Internet marketing technique that lets you test and see which elements of your email newsletter: subject line, text, graphics, design or layout, can be improved to increase your newsletter’s success rate. Some email marketing service providers include this feature to help you split test and give you results to find out which performs better.

Application Programming Interface (API)

Most popular Email Marketing Service Providers (EMSPs) now offer what’s called an API (or Application Programming Interface), which allows you to connect/integrate other existing software to the EMSP. Benefits include: data sharing, better contact importing, better contact list management and analytic reporting capability and more. The options are numerous, depending on your needs and what type of API the EMSP offers. An example of an API would be Salesforce, a popular customer relationship manager (CRM) used for tracking leads. EMSP’s can use the Salesforce API to automatically send out campaigns to segments of your existing database, without having to import or export lists from other programs.


Almost all EMSP’s do not allow attachments for a simple reason – they increase the probability of a given message being viewed as spam (as a result, the EMSP’s (and your) delivery rates may be affected). Attachments can also be flagged as computer virus files. For that reason, you’re better off using inline links in your newsletter email, which you can then link to a hosted file. When the user clicks the link, they are given the option to download the file. Not as streamlined as an email attachment, but much more likely to allow the email to reach its full audience.


An autoresponder fires off an email to a subscriber automatically. A single autoresponder is most common – this typically just replies to a subscriber when they sign up. A sequential autoresponder is a little more advanced and allows you to schedule a series of predefined emails to be sent out on a specified schedule.

Bounce & Bounce Rate

A bounce is when an email is rejected by the recipients mail server. There are two types of bounces. A soft bounce is when an email is temporarily un-receivable due to a full mailbox or email size and a hard bounce is a permanent fail to deliver. Emails that have hard bounces should be removed from your email database because they do not exist. Soft bounces on the other hand are okay to keep in your database, but you should keep an eye on them over time. Some EMSP’s will continue to try to send to soft bounce emails several times to attempt success (but not guaranteed). The bounce rate is the percentage of emails that bounce back on your email list. For example, if you have one email out of 10 that bounces back, you would have a 10% bounce rate. If your bounce rate is high, then your account could be flagged for having a large number of undeliverable emails.

CAN Spam

A term you might often hear thrown around is “Can Spam” which stands for the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing act – or “Canning spam” email. Signed into law in 2003 the law contains a series of email marketing guidelines enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to protect U.S. consumers. Most of these compliances are standard in EMSPs including having a mailing address in email campaigns and requiring subscribers to opt in so you shouldn’t have to worry about adhering to them (but you should be aware of CAN-SPAM to make sure you are not breaking the law).

Click-Through Rate

Just as the term states, the click-through rate is the percentage of how many people click on your email campaign. The click rate is used primarily in campaigns with call to actions that encourage a subscriber to click on a link to buy, read more or sign up. It’s less important in more general awareness email campaigns. Some EMSPs like Mailchimp show you the industry average click-through rate so you can see how your campaigns compare to others.

Email Marketing Service Providers (EMSPs)

These are companies that provide email marketing services for companies to create, deploy and track marketing emails. There are a wide-range of services that offer a variety of different bells and whistles so it’s important to get to know which is the best service for you and what you are trying to achieve. Read our full review of the best email marketing services.

List Segmentation

List segmentation is targeting messages to subsets of your subscriber base. Customer segmentation can be done using a variety of factors based on data you have captured from your newsletter subscribers when they sign up (like interests, location, etc.). If you have the time and resources, segmenting your lists is a great way to help establish a stronger connection via more relevant newsletters. A great use of segmentation is to resend messages to subscribers who didn’t open or click the first time.


The term used for when a subscriber joins your email newsletter. The subscriber must be aware of joining your list prior to adding them by agreeing to receive email communications from you. Conversely, if someone wishes to remove themselves from your newsletter, you must legally have the option for them to “opt out” within the emails you send.

Open Rate

Similar to click rate, the open rate is much like the name states and is the percentage of opens from a single email campaign. Open rates are often used as a benchmark for success with higher open rates translating to better emails. Catchy subject lines (see below), frequency and timing of campaign can all affect the open rate, so it’s good to test out each to get the highest open rate possible.

Newsletter Archiving

This is the ability to save, or archive, your old newsletters. EMSPs differ in the way they handle this feature. Some offer to back up a certain quantity or volume of newsletters on their servers. Others offer export options that convert your newsletters into PDF or HTML files so you can download them and/or store them on your website. You need to keep in mind that there is an SEO advantage to archiving your own newsletters (DIY).

Responsive Design Templates

Given the popularity of smartphones, most email templates are now designed to adjust automatically for viewing on mobile, tablets and PC screens. There are also mobile-aware designs that are more basic in their design than their responsive counterparts. Ideally mobile-aware designs render on all screens, but they are geared toward smartphone screens so they can get glitchy. Responsive design templates are the optimal choice these days as statistics show that consumers are increasingly opening their emails on the go through their smartphones and tablets. If you don’t have a good design that you know will render well on all screens, you’re risking losing a great opportunity to build and keep your customers. Use your EMSP to preview your email in smartphone mode or send a test and check it on your own device.

Spam Score/Checking

Finding out whether your subscribers actually got your email is important. If they didn’t, why not? Some EMSPs offer spam score utilities that help you determine the likelihood of your newsletter ending up in a spam box before you hit send. Spam tests help you optimize and clean up your email campaign before sending it.

Subject Line

The subject line is the string of text in the subject field of the email. It gives the reader an idea of what to expect, and is one of the most important parts of your message. Think of the subject line as a “hook” to get a subscriber to open the email. Unlike traditional email where the subject line is more informational, the subject line for email marketing should be catchy and engaging to get your audience’s attention. Subject lines should not contain any words that could be flagged as spam like “FREE” or over-use punctuation marks!!! As emojis become more popular, you might see them being used by marketers; however, they might get caught in the spam filter. We have not decided yet whether these should be included in your email marketing best practices.

Here are some tips from our friend Amy Schmittauer of Savvy Sexy Social on how to get better performing subject lines.

Text Version

There are some people who might opt in to getting a text only version of your email or have phones that do not support HTML. This is not as common as it used to be, as HTML is now the standard email format.

Trigger-Based Messaging

This lets you send messages based on your subscriber’s actions. It creates a more personalized interaction with your audience. Examples of trigger-based messages include a welcome email, a “happy birthday” message, a reminder to renew a subscription, a note that a new version of a product is available, a “we miss you ” note to a subscriber that hasn’t opened a newsletter in a while, etc.

Steps to Using Email Marketing

Now that you hopefully have a better grasp on the A to Z’s of email marketing, it’s time to take the next steps towards using email marketing for your business.

  1. Decide if email marketing is right for you – Just because email marketing exists doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the right fit for you and your business. Evaluate if you have the capacity and how your business might benefit from email marketing.
  2. Come up with a launch plan – How often will you send your campaign and to whom? Where will you get subscribers and what information will you ask on the subscribe form that will be useful for your business (Birthday, zip code)?
  3. Think about the long-term strategy – What ways will you plan to grow your list (from customers on check out or at events)? How many subscribers do you anticipate having over the long period? Asking these questions up front will help you down the road.
  4. Determine the best email marketing platform software – Now that you know what you need in an email marketing service provider, it’s time to evaluate the best fit for you. It can be easy to get distracted by some of the added features, but stay focused on what’s most important to you and your bottom line.

Read more about all the various providers and review their features side by side in our handy email marketing services comparison table.

More Resources

Still want to learn more about email marketing? You’re in luck my friend! We have a great introductory article, a definitive guide to email marketing campaigns full of email marketing tips and an article on using email marketing to help your small business.

Now hopefully you feel a little more comfortable and empowered to dive into the world of email marketing and can start sending your own campaigns soon.

Do you use email marketing? What other questions do you have about email marketing 101?

About The Author:

Sadie has acted as the email marketing coordinator and web designer for one of the world's largest travel companies and managed social media for dozens of major brands. She has a breadth and depth of web and marketing knowledge that reaches far and wide. She loves all things Mac and keeping up with all the latest web trends.

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Alen Paul
Keep continuing to update this kind of post for your user.
Despite the proliferation of new marketing channels in recent years, email marketing continues to deliver the highest ROI of any digital marketing tool. You cannot argue with the data!
Awesome post! I’m just starting out and I also checked the post you guys did on comparison. I might try GetResponse first. Sounds easy to use.