If you’re reading this, you probably have been investing in content marketing for some time. We assume that you also have a website, a blog, a bunch of posts and case studies that are really fun to read and should be shared with everyone across the industries you work with. That’s a great start! You’ve prepared plenty of fuel for your inbound sales channel.
Therefore, your #1 question right now must be, “How do I turn on the ignition?”
Inbound marketing is the result of transformation that decision-making has gone through. We’re no longer influenced by TV ads or newspapers when it comes to choosing a vendor or product. Modern decision-makers know how to use the Internet and do their homework diligently before choosing a brand. Moreover, those decision-makers don’t like to be taken lightly. B2C buyers won’t like an ad that basically says, “Don’t think, just consume” while B2B clients will reject any vendor who sends them a crummy sales offer that offers generic info.
“But wait!” you might say. “Isn’t email marketing used for outbound? Are you sure you got this right?”
This is what makes email marketing so awesome: It goes with everything. Inbound and outbound, B2C and B2B — there is nothing you can’t do with the right campaign, message and settings.
But let’s outline several clear distinctions between outbound email marketing and inbound email marketing.
Of course, modern outbound marketing is designed to be as non-interruptive as possible in order to establish a natural and frictionless conversation. However, inbound marketing interacts with prospects on another level. It doesn’t need them to respond or to write back; it merely encourages them to research, explore and make conclusions. It also means working with prospects who:
a) have already visited your website;
b) subscribed to your newsletter, i.e., interested in your content;
c) expressed their consent to getting mails from you by sharing their contact data;
d) created an account on your website or inside tool.
Now, let’s take a look at the key principles behind inbound email marketing.
Does it work? Well, the stats speak for themselves.
- Unstable deliverability. Many B2B senders get dangerously comfortable with their B2B outreach. By “dangerously” we mean believing that campaigns targeted at opted-in recipients don’t require as much monitoring as outbound campaigns do. It’s important to remember that no campaign is a piece of cake. Pitfalls can catch anybody by surprise.
- Sudden spam issues. Emails that seemingly disappear from inbound outreach, never landing to any inbox, are a common problem. Inbound messages aren’t an exception. So before you launch a campaign, you need to know how to run spam tests.
- Creativity isn’t aligned with the rules. When it comes to sending promotional and informative emails, some brands let their marketing departments go wild with creativity. Images, videos, even mini-games — everybody tries to present their content in the most imaginative way possible. Some senders, however, get carried away and risk ending up under the strict supervision of spam filters.
All those things considered, building an inbound marketing email campaign is not a walk in a park. But it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try it. Every approach becomes a lot more understandable once it’s laid out, step by step — and this is exactly what our guide does.
Make the most out of your domain
While outbound email marketing always requires building and warming up a new domain, inbound email marketing looks comparatively easy since it allows using your company domain. After all, your recipients subscribed to your newsletter. They know already — at least, they know you well enough not to be alerted by seeing your email in the inbox.
That’s true: If your company domain has an established reputation and there are no cold recipients on your lists, you can use it for your inbound marketing. But there is always a catch.
There is one tiny mistake that many beginners make — they see no difference between transactional and promotional emails, believing both to be part of inbound email marketing. Of course, they’re not. Numerous experts from the Folderly team suggest separating them.
Why is it so important?
- Transactional emails are triggered by your customer. A user signs up for the first time, gets a response to their comment under one of their blog posts, books a time slot in the calendar, makes a purchase — all these actions result in your subscribers getting notifications that report on their activities and effects. Such messages are never sent in bulk: They’re automated and tuned to the specific actions of a certain user.
- Promotional emails aren’t triggered by users. They follow the pattern established by the sender and are sent in bulk, covering an entire segment of your target audience. For example, all your subscribers get messages about a new post in your blog.
When it comes to getting your priorities straight, it’s transactional emails you want to always land in your customers’ inboxes. When users instantly get transactional emails after performing an action, they know they're dealing with a credible vendor who got everything under control. Transactional emails that arrive too late, land in the wrong folder or don’t arrive at all immediately become red flags, scaring your potential loyal clients away. After all, wouldn’t it bother you if you had to dig around your Spam folder to find an invoice notification while trying to complete a purchase on a website?
Therefore, you must simply make sure that your transactional email lands in the right folder completing a purchase on a website and that means using a domain with a good reputation, which would be your company domain.
“Can’t I just send both my transactional and promotional emails from my primary domain? What’s the harm?”
We don’t recommend putting so much pressure on your domain reputation — it’s hard to build up but easy to destroy. Your subscribers know that they will be getting messages from you every now and then, but it doesn’t mean that they’re going to like your content. They may unsubscribe, flag your emails as spam or delete them ASAP. Two last scenarios will make an impact on your domain health, your IP reputation and the reputation of your email address.
At the same time, any user expects to get a transactional email after interacting with your website. Accordingly, each time a transactional email lands in your clients’ inbox, it adds up to your domain reputation.
So, when you send your transactional and promotional emails from one domain, you may end up with your sender score dropping and your recipients frustrated.
What should you do then?
Create a subdomain for your promotional emails
A subdomain made specifically for your inbound marketing campaigns is a great decision. Your campaigns won’t clash with each other, you can send in bulk and run A/B testing without worrying about your transactional emails.
For example, your company domain may be wedob2b.com, while your subdomain is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Adding a subdomain depends on your domain host’s settings. The procedure used at Namecheap won’t work in Gmail and vice versa.
If you use Gmail and GSuite for your campaigns, the process is the following.
Log in to Google Domains and go to My Domains.
Select your root domain and click … . You need Synthetic records.
Find Subdomain forward and fill in the fields.
Once you’re done, click Add. Wonderful!
Warm up your subdomain
Now, your subdomain is freshly made and ready to go… Well, almost. Even though your inbound campaigns are targeted at warm prospects, your subdomain is still new to the system. Its reputation is neutral, but it can quickly change. Therefore, we suggest playing safely and doing the same warmup and record-checking that you would do for your outbound domain.
But don’t worry, it’s not complicated. Here’s a little trick:
- Ask a bunch of colleagues and friends to subscribe to your blog.
- Send them a couple of your inbound marketing emails.
- Have them mark those emails as important, click links and buttons.
- Slowly increase the volume of emails throughout the week.
- Keep going until Week 3.
Done! Now you can start sending safely, knowing that your subdomain is trusted by email service providers and your reputation is intact.
Your next step is to make sure that everything stays that way.
Warm up your dedicated IP
There is a reason why we instantly started talking about a dedicated IP. It’s not a default option — whenever you register an email account and create a mailbox, you get a shared IP address. It means that aside from you, a whole lot of other companies are using your IP for their outreach goals. If you’re a small company, it’s a good way to get started.
Shared IP benefits
- You grow fast. Since a shared IP pool takes all sent emails into account, you grow from an increased email volume, so you don’t have to expand your sending limits slowly.
- You can experiment safely. When using a shared IP, you’re punished less severely for trying out a new sending frequency for your campaigns or going a bit beyond your sending limit. If the collective reputation of your shared IP pool is generally possible, it’s easier for your Sender reputation to bounce back from average to good.
- You pay less. Shared IP addresses are more cost-effective, so they’re more popular among small companies and startups. Coming up with new strategies or defining the best-selling outreach campaign becomes more rewarding when you can manage your resources freely.
Nevertheless, using a shared IP pool entails a certain risk and can endanger both your inbound and outbound marketing.
Dangers of a shared IP
- You share both success and responsibility. It’s all fine and dandy when you share an IP address with credible companies that use the healthiest outreach practices possible. However, if at least two or more companies violate the CAN-SPAM act or use spammy techniques, you’ll end up penalized together with them. Internet service providers and spam filters won’t differentiate between you and spammers, and you won’t have any way of proving that you have nothing to do with these companies.
- Shared IP can’t keep up with your growth. You won’t remain a small business forever. You’ll launch more campaigns, build up your volume of emails, and need a better reputation. A shared IP pool won’t be able to provide you with the latter — you can’t vouch for all new companies that join in. Some of them may do something that will impact your collective reputation, so you’ll have to pick up the pieces instead of moving forward.
How does a dedicated IP address help you with your growth?
A dedicated IP address belongs to you and you alone. It means that you’re responsible for your reputation and you’re in control of all the activities tied to your address. When you’re a small company, things get challenging: Your growth is much smaller because you build your outreach from scratch. Also, you have to be more careful with your experiments since every miscalculation hurts your sender reputation.
However, once you get past it and grow up as a company, you’ll enjoy the feeling of being in full control of your image. Additionally, using a dedicated IP address allows you to get whitelisted faster, skipping the scrutiny of spam filters and internet service providers.
Folderly provides a wide set of techniques that can help you warm up your dedicated IP without spending too much time on warm-up campaigns and compiling a list of warm recipients. You can interact with Folderly servers to build trust and create a positive dynamic.
Provide an opt-out option
Yes, there are many other important things to discuss. However, in our practice, many senders lost their audience and good domain name because of forgetting such a little, yet tremendously essential thing.
A good business person always shows that there is a clear way in and a clear way out. Happy recipients never feel like by clicking one button they signed a devil’s contract and are now condemned to dealing with your emails until the end of time. Harassment is punished by law.
Providing an option to opt out covers all three aspects: You prove that it’s safe to do business with you, your recipients feel comfortable, and you won’t be penalized for bad marketing practices.
Therefore, before you start thinking about anything else, make sure that your recipients can quit whenever they want by including an opt-out option in your campaign templates.
Some email newsletter services automatically generate opt-out messages and attach them to the bottom of your email based on the data you submitted (business information, company name, physical address and email). Also, they process all unsubscribe requests automatically up to deleting the user’s email from the sending list. We suggest whatever option you’re comfortable with.
Whether you go with an automated or manual approach, always provide business information! Add your company name, physical address, phone number to your email signature. Make sure that your marketing sender has a photo ID. Never leave your inbound recipients feeling like they’re in a spy movie (a bad one!) by supplying them with misleading or fake information. You must be reachable. You must be real.
If someone unsubscribes from your e-newsletter, you might follow up with an email asking them for feedback. If they unsubscribe from your subscription service (such as a gym), in addition to asking for feedback, you might provide a special “we want you back” offer or incentive. You can also follow up with them 3 or 6 months later, when their situation may have changed, to woo them back.
Segment your emails
The best way to build and solidify a good sender reputation is to add as much precision into your email campaigns as possible. You can do it by segmenting your sending lists.
Build a schedule
Whether you do outbound or inbound, schedules matter. The number # 1 reason why users are reluctant to subscribe to a blog or provide their real email address is that they don’t want to turn their inbox into a mess. Whenever they click “subscribe,” they anticipate a flood of flashy messages with loud subject lines. Moreover, they are afraid of losing truly valuable messages in the chaos.
Therefore, as soon as there is a suspicion of your inbound emails lacking a consistent schedule, your recipients would unsubscribe and quit. In some cases, when you fail to provide an opt-out option, forget to remove the user from the list or don’t stop sending emails even after numerous requests, your messages get flagged as spam, while you get reported. Yes, things can escalate that fast. This is why you must respect your recipients’ time and fold your messages into their schedule slowly and gently.
- Segment your campaigns. Your inbound marketing materials vary in size, tone and style. Adding something exclusive and exceptional, like an e-book release, to your daily updates newsletter would probably take away the thrill. Mixing your newsletter and interactive content like polls and quizzes would also make your recipients confused and exhausted. So, you might want to create individual campaigns for your special content and plan them accordingly.
- Align your content and emails. The only way to make your content updates predictable and organized is to inject some regularity into your posting schedule. For example, you make a new post every first and last week of the month. With this in mind, you’d know when to send the “Have you seen our new post?” email.
- Research your target audience. If you work with several different industries, you’re dealing with a large variety of routines and paces. So, instead of painting everyone with the same brush, personalize your recipients as much as possible. Create an age group, categorize them by the working day length and the frequency of their interactions with the inbox. The more you know, the easier it’s for you to build the perfect schedule for your campaigns.
- Prepare your seasonal materials in advance. There are certain rules regarding holidays and seasonal events. For example, you don’t send any promotional materials to your US-based clients on Thanksgiving, you send them a “have a great Thanksgiving” email two days prior and let them enjoy their quality time with the family. Also, you must create content that is relevant to your business and your prospects’ needs in the first place and connect it to the seasonal event — and only then can you work on scheduling your campaign.
- Be mobile! Smartphones are a force to be reckoned with. They make digital content easily accessible, they soothe our information-starved minds, they make checking an inbox a matter of one second — and they considerably shorten our attention span. You have to adjust to that not only by making your emails mobile-friendly but also by ensuring that your juicy inbound marketing materials arrive at the right moment.
With these principles covered, let’s talk about choosing the right day and time. The catch is, there is no exactly right or wrong day to send emails. It all depends on your prospects’ market, priorities and even their age. However, to give you some basics to begin with, we can offer an approximate outline of prospects’ behavior during a week.
Still in doubt about the best day for sending your promotional emails? Hey, you’re an inbound sender! This means that you have an incredible opportunity — you can actually find out what your target audience wants! You can make a poll and send it to your subscribers: Let them vote and tell you when they’re most comfortable with receiving emails. After all, they’re agreeing to get content from you, so they should be able to choose when they want it.
Don’t be afraid of coming off as inconfident or indecisive: Show that you want your prospects to like every bit of being subscribed to you, so you’re more than willing to make adjustments.
When it comes to picking the right time slot, things get relatively easier. Since your goal is to inform, entertain and slowly ignite your prospects’ interest in you, you should base your choices around the time when your recipients are available for exploring some quality content.
Another thing that you must take care of is cadence. The interval between your messages affects your deliverability a lot. Some senders often mistakenly believe that since users opted in, their inboxes are open for new promotional content 24/7. The truth is, however, that both inbound and outbound users hate being disturbed without a good reason, so they won’t hesitate to take measures, should you go overboard with your outreach.
Picking the right cadence will help you stay in your recipients’ good graces and keep them interested in your content. The trick is, the concept of the “right cadence” depends on your marketing goals.
In general, your analytical data would be of great help, so we suggest using it instead of feelings and intuition.
This metric is a must for monitoring your outbound marketing progress. When you do A/B testing, complete with promotional materials, such as links to webinars, case studies and file attachments, you must check up with your CTR. Your optimal click-through rate is usually calculated by dividing the number of unique clicks by the number of emails you sent and then multiplying the number by 100.
Every industry has individual requirements regarding CTR, so it’s hard to tell which benchmark you should be focusing on.
This metric should always be compared together with click-throughs. When your emails are opened but their content remains unexplored, what’s the point?
If you start receiving a large number of unsubscribe requests shortly after starting your campaign, there are areas for improvement, and you should immediately address them.
- Don’t let unsubscribes scare you! If you’re new to inbound email marketing, you’re still in the process of gathering and shaping your target audience. Some groups will appreciate your content more than others. As long as you timely process unsubscription requests and part with your recipients on good terms, you’re good.
- Be patient. You need some time to build up your metrics before you’re able to compare your progress and see substantial changes. At the initial stage, your goal is to keep your metrics from declining.
- Run A/B testing! To choose the best cadence, you can try two different options. Split your sending list and see what cadence gets more response. It’s a viable strategy, especially when you work with a large audience.
Deal with fake signups
The digital era has its benefits and downsides. In case of inbound marketing, the obvious downside is fake registrations. Not all users are completely cool with providing their real email address, so they quickly register a new one and use it to make an account or gain access to certain content and features. Such users are generally not interested in opening your promotional emails, so if you see a massive amount of fake registrations on your website, it may skew your data on open rate and click-throughs — and you don’t want that. Antispam systems may also notice that some of your emails land in inboxes without triggering any response.
Additionally, there is a bigger threat: Fake signups can be caused by spambots, who, in fact, interact with your emails, open messages and click links. Such interactions drive no value and can distort your performance metrics.
As you can see, fake registrations can and will hurt your inbound marketing. So, you should take the matters into your own hands and protect your mailboxes from compromised data.
How do you prevent fake signups?
In your approach, you should separate reluctant users from spambots. Reluctant users are human: They base their choices around their emotions and expectations and generally mean no harm. Spambots, however, are the product of bad intent. The ones who made them could care less about your deliverability and the state of your inbound marketing. Therefore, to take the best measures against fake signups, you must work out an individual approach for each group.
Ways to prevent fake signups from reluctant users
- Make signups as easy as possible. Quite often, registration forms take users through all kinds of loops and hoops before they’re able to sign in. The most old-school ones require adding a name, last name, email address, etcetera, etcetera… It takes less than a minute for a user to get bored with exploring the content of your website — and you want them to waste at least 5 minutes filling out a form? That’s not happening. To make sure that your visitors are comfortable with signing up, you must entice them with the simplicity of the process. For example, you can add an option to sign in with their Google account or with their LinkedIn account. Just one click — and they’re done! What is not to love about it? Moreover, it provides you with users who opt in automatically.
- Send opt-in emails. To be extra careful and separate apples from oranges in advance, we recommend sending double opt-in emails to newly registered email addresses. In this email, you should ask your users to confirm their registration by clicking a link. If the users don't perform this action within an hour, it means that they never intended to sign in, so you can freely delete their email from your sending list.
In general, you reduce the level of fake registrations by building trust. Be open about your communication with subscribers and be responsive to their requests. The higher your reputation is, the less trouble with fake signups you’ll have.
Ways to prevent fake signups by spambots
- Use ReCAPTCHA. This is the simplest and easiest way of preventing spambots from signing up. All human users will be able to pass the check without any difficulty, while spambots won’t have access to the checkbox, therefore, they won’t be able to sign up.
- Install an API. Since spambot signups became a huge problem for many platforms, developers took measures to intercept fake signups before they’re able to do any harm. At first, those were APIs for Joomla and Magento, but nowadays, you have more versatile and advanced options.
- Add fake fields. Platforms like Mailchimp use a tactic called “honeypot fields.” This strategy involves adding fake fields to the signup form. The trick is that those fields are only visible to spambots. Therefore, any user who fills those fields is considered a spambot and gets instantly removed.
Build high-value content
Now, once you know how to build a proper schedule for your inbound recipients, let’s see what kind of templates would appeal to them most. It’s important to differentiate between two main types of emails.
HTML email template
This type of email template is very popular in inbound marketing. You’re not working with plain text — instead, you have an entire HTML file with reusable code modules. This file allows you to:
The best part of HTML templates is that they’re entirely reusable. One good template can carry you through multiple campaigns. Once you create it, it’s stored away by your email service provider or your HTML builder, allowing you to edit links and images and meet the needs of a specific campaign.
You don’t have to be the master of coding in order to craft an HTML template. Nowadays, you have many services that provide you with free templates or even code editors. For example, Litmus Builder is one of the most popular platforms that allow you to build and customize HTML templates.
HTML template guidelines
- Keep your layout as minimalistic as possible: Don’t use many columns or let your visual elements overlap.
- The accepted design width must be a whole-number pixel value (between 600 and 800.) Always make sure to choose the narrowest range.
- Test your design with custom fonts, such as Arial and Helvetica, to make sure that your email template will get displayed properly regardless of an email client (for example, what works for Gmail may not work for iOS Mail and vice versa.)
- Never use font size smaller than 10px.
- Your images must be lightweight: For example, a 500x500 JPG file must weigh 100 kb only.
Don’t forget to add the following attributes when inserting images, so they won’t break in different clients:
- Since not all email clients can scale down image dimensions, make sure to pre-scale them yourself. It will save you from several layout issues and complaints from your recipients.
- The image dimensions must be whole-number pixel values.
- Always add your mailing address and an unsubscribe link to differentiate your HTML emails from spam messages.
Plain text email
Well, this one is simple. Plain text emails contain text only and have an incredibly conventional design. No coding modules, to design customization — nothing. Compared to HTML templates, they look like a very boring alternative, unfit for inbound marketing. However, in fact, they go hand-in-hand with HTML templates and boast a wide range of benefits.
- They’re more trustworthy. Both email service providers and users are more comfortable with receiving plain text emails. The lack of coding modules and built-in image files puts the systems at ease because they don’t have to scan incoming emails hard for malware. Meanwhile, users enjoy the feeling of privacy: A plain text email feels more casual and exclusive, meaning that the sender wants to talk rather than flash their creativity at the recipient.
- They’re more lightweight. When composing a plain text email, you don’t have to worry about its weight or size. It’s not burdened by fonts, links and images and will be instantly allowed into your prospects’ inboxes.
- They’re more accessible. It doesn’t matter whether you send to Gmail users or Outlook users — your plain text email will get displayed as intended, without causing any difficulties for your recipients.
- They’re inevitable. In the end, you’ll have to write a plain text message even if you make HTML templates. There will always be users who can’t or won’t accept HTML emails from you, but it’s not an excuse to remove them from your sending list, isn’t it? Therefore, you must always prepare a plain-text copy of your HTML message.
Inbound marketing is rich with creative opportunities! But communication, trust and respect of the core principles of email outreach determine whether your inbound campaigns are successful or not. We hope that this guide helped you take them most important things into account:
- Always use a subdomain for your promotional materials. It will keep your main domain clean from potential fluctuations in your sender reputation and give you more opportunities to experiment with your campaigns.
- Base your outreach around consent. Let your users opt in and opt out as they see fit. Process their unsubscribe requests quickly and make the process of opting out as simple as possible.
- Build trust by creating a schedule. Make your inbound emails as regular as morning newspaper delivery. Choose a cadence that fits your recipients’ routine and keep them waiting for your content.
- Protect yourself from fake signups. Work with real users only. Make signups easy and prevent spambots from registering via API and techniques offered by mail servers.
With that covered, we wish you the best of luck with your inbound marketing campaigns. Stay smart, stay creative and build solid relationships with your opted-in recipients!
Deliver emails, deliver results
Folderly offers a set of tools for managing the flow of your campaigns. Make sure that every email finds its recipient and keep your sender reputation spotless! Don’t know how to get started? We got you covered. Our team is available 24/7 for a detailed consultation that will let you make the most out of Folderly. Add more visibility to your email marketing and spread your message!