How to Build a List and Send Emails That Convert by Justine Jordan

Email marketing has the highest return on investment across digital marketing channels, and companies have attributed nearly 23% of their total sales to email. This data (clearly!) shows that email is worth the investment, but how can you be sure that you’re experiencing a similar return and getting the most from your email campaigns?

Providing your subscribers with a positive email experience from the signup to the landing page—and everything in-between—is crucial to getting optimal results. I’ll cover how to optimize every step of the subscriber experience.

Get the Signup

With optimized signup forms you can acquire more organic subscribers—the ones most likely to exhibit the strongest engagement and stick with you the longest. The ones most likely to convert.

Optimizing your signup forms means:

  • Only including relevant form fields. There’s a direct correlation between the number of fields you include and the number of people who convert. Don’t overwhelm your potential subscribers with long forms. You can use progressive profiling and subscription centers to gain more information about them over time.
  • Testing that they actually work. Ensure your forms work and that each signup is being properly tracked in your email service provider (ESP).
  • Providing a clear value proposition about why they should give you their email address. Whether it’s helpful content or a free t-shirt, make it obvious to them.

P.S. Never purchase an email list—everyone that you send to should have explicitly agreed to receive emails from you. Don’t run the risk of being unsubscribed from, marked as spam, or even fined for sending unsolicited emails.

Encourage the Open

You’ve got their email address (congrats!), but now what? Don’t ruin your conversion opportunities by sending emails that don’t get opened.

1. Use a recognizable from name.

From names are the field that appears first in most email clients, and likely the first thing your subscribers see, so they should be easily recognizable. Typically, you’ll find the names of companies, brands, or individuals here.

Consider the relationship between the subscriber and your brand—are they more likely to recognize the name of your brand/product, or the name of an individual at your company? A/B testing over time can reveal the right approach for you—it may be a mix.

2. Optimize your subject line.

Like everything in email, there is no set formula for creating the perfect subject line. What works for one brand, may not work for yours. Like from names, it’s a great opportunity for A/B testing.

However, some general guidelines to follow are:

  • Be useful and specific.
  • Use timely topics and urgency.
  • Avoid using promotional or spammy language.

3. Be strategic with your preview text.

Preview text (also referred to as snippet text or preheader text) is copy pulled in from the body of your email and is typically displayed underneath the from name and subject line in a subscriber’s inbox.

Not all email clients support preview text —and even when it is supported, no two inboxes look the same. Both placement and character count vary across email clients and apps.

For inboxes that do support it, use this extra line or two—or even three—of text to work alongside your subject line to encourage the open.

4. Include a friendly reply-to address.

Email is a great way to build a personal relationship with your subscribers. And, when subscribers build a relationship with your brand, they are more likely to convert.

When an email’s reply-to address is a variation of “[email protected],” it turns what should be a communication highway into a one-way street—eliminating the opportunity for further customer interaction. It also appears unfriendly, uncaring, and may even affect your delivery rates.

Use a friendly reply-to address (like “[email protected]”) and encourage this communication. And, make sure responses are going to an inbox that is actively monitored.

Design for Viewing Across All Environments

You’ve convinced your subscribers to open your campaign. Now it’s time to get the email right. While responsive design is a great tactic for ensuring compatibility across all email environments, it’s not supported everywhere.

Consider using these mobile-friendly elements as a backup for when media queries aren’t supported:

  • Strip down content: Only include information that is relevant and needed to convince your subscribers to take an action. Nix all of the extra content and consider putting that on a landing page.
  • Simplify your design: Use a one-column design for increased legibility, allowing your subscribers to easily read and interact with your email regardless of whether they’re reading your email on desktop, webmail, or mobile.
  • Make your text bigger: Use a minimum size of 14px for body copy and 22px for headlines. Your subscribers shouldn’t have to zoom-in to read your email.
  • Use touch-friendly calls to action (CTAs): Surround each CTA with plenty of white space so they are easily clickable—and touchable. If you’re using buttons, use at least a 44x44px button size.

Include a Text Version

Unless you’re sending a plain text email, multi-part MIME (Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions) should be part of every email campaign. Multi-part MIME bundles together a simplified plain text version of your email along with the HTML version of your email.

Sending in multi-part MIME is a necessity because:

  • Spam filters like to see a plain text alternative.
  • Some email clients and apps can’t handle HTML (I’m looking at you, Apple Watch).
  • Some people simply prefer it and opt to only receive the plain text version.

Optimize for Image Blocking

While images will be displayed in many desktop, mobile, and webmail inboxes, in some they will be disabled. If you want your subscribers to convert, you must make your email legible—and actionable—regardless of whether images are present or not.

Luckily, there are a number of strategies to help combat image blocking:

  • Include alternative text (ALT text): When images are disabled, ALT text renders in place of the image. Use ALT text to provide some context for subscribers when images are disabled.
  • Use bulletproof buttons: CTAs should be viewable—and actionable—regardless of whether images are present or not. Add a little HTML and inline styles and rest-assured that your CTA buttons will display even when images are blocked.
  • Balance imagery and text: Use a balance of live text and imagery to ensure your email is legible and easy to interact with regardless of whether images are present or not.

Preview Your Emails Before Sending

There are seemingly countless ways that email clients can break your designs. What looks great in one inbox, could look completely mangled and broken in another. Preview your campaigns across mobile, desktop, and webmail clients before sending. You’ve convinced your subscribers to open your email—don’t ruin it with a broken design.

A/B Test to See What Works

Use A/B testing to compare the results of one version of an email against another version of an email. It can give marketers concrete evidence of which tactics work on their audiences and which don’t. There are countless things to test, including: headlines, preview text, from names, and images. It’s one of the most effective and easiest ways to make measurable improvements to your campaigns.

Don’t Forget About the Landing Page

Your subscriber’s experience doesn’t end with your email—it continues onto the landing page or website. Similar to the email, keep the content streamlined and include a clear CTA. Also, if your email is mobile-friendly, your website should be, too. You wouldn’t want your subscriber to get all the way to the landing page only to be turned off by an inaccessible experience. Make it as easy as possible for them to take the desired action.

Some Emails You Should Be Sending…

So you’ve learned how to get your subscribers to subscribe (so meta), encourage them to open your email, optimize your email’s design, and more. But, none of that matters if you aren’t sending emails that your subscribers want.

While this could be a course in and of itself, here are some emails you should be sending:

  • A welcome email: Once your subscribers give you their email address, be sure to send a welcome email. Whether it’s welcoming them to a newsletter, or a free trial, thank your subscribers for signing up. You’re top of mind at this point, so they will be expecting an immediate email from you.
  • Onboarding emails: Send a series of emails to educate subscribers on the value of engaging with your brand and with your emails. Get new users to engage with the different features of your product and using your product as much as possible.
  • Triggered emails: Send highly personalized emails by triggered messaging based on user behavior. For example, if someone has downloaded an eBook, but isn’t a current customer, send an email that relates to the eBook and ties in the benefit of your tool(s). Or, if an active user is on a lower-priced, limited plan, trigger an email based on the benefits of upgrading.
  • Transactional emails: Transactional emails give customers the peace of mind that their transactions have been processed properly, but they’re also a good opportunity to elicit further conversions. While the focus of these emails should be on the transaction itself, cross-selling (and upselling, where appropriate) is a great tactic.

Send Emails That Convert

Doing email marketing right is all about sending the right message to the right subscriber at the right time. Optimize for every step of your subscriber’s journey. And, remember that no part of email is “set it and forget it.” Always be testing and on the lookout for ways to improve your campaigns.

Good luck on your journey in sending better email! If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out on Twitter.


  1. Optimize your signup form by only asking for necessary information, testing the submission process (on all browsers, devices and email clients) and testing your list’s value proposition.
  2. Always include a plain text version of your email and take the necessary steps to combat image blocking (e.g. include alternative text, bulletproof buttons and imagery).
  3. A/B test headlines, preview text, from names and images. Most email marketing tools make split testing very easy, so take advantage of it.

For more from Justine, check out Litmus.

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