Top challenges small and mid-sized businesses face with email marketing

Email marketing involves 3 key elements: audience, content, platform.

Audience is your subscribers, the target of your email marketing effort.
Content is your newsletters; what you send to your subscribers.
Platform is the tools you use to send your content to your audience.

Small and medium sized businesses face some difficulties in managing effectively each of these 3 key elements. Let's break them down and analyze them one by one.

The definition of a small or medium-sized business varies by country (based on turnover and number of employees). In this article we consider businesses without dedicated marketing departments neither having specialized staff for email marketing activities. At the same time we offer insights that are applicable to any business regardless of its size.

1. Audience: building and maintaining an email list

One of the biggest challenges for small and medium-sized businesses is building a substantial email list from scratch. It's crucial to have a list of individuals who are genuinely interested in your products or services to ensure effective email marketing.

How to build a mailing list

  • As a business, you probably have some lists of emails already (business cards, pamphlets etc.). Put them together and organize them.
  • Use opt-in forms prominently placed in your website. Pop-up forms work. Entice prospects to register by making a compelling offer and make sure you deliver your offer.
  • Give an option to sign-up when prospects use your contact form. nuevoMailer api can help you with this.
  • Use double opt-in to ensure these are valid sign-ups. A prospect who clicks the confirmation link in your email shows a genuine interest in hearing from you.
  • Merge together the offline and online worlds. Why not ask for the customer's email at a physical checkout?
  • Use nuevoMailer to print a QR code of your opt-in form in flyers you hand out in your shop, other venues or events.
  • But remember, lists need nurturing. List nurturing is another email marketing activity you should engage in.
  • Avoid using purchased lists.
    Having worked with small businesses with more than 20 years it is amazing how often our customers come with purchased lists believing that they made a good decision.
    Only after sending their first campaigns that results in a high bounce rate, risking to get blocked by their email delivery service they realize it wasn't money wisely spent.

2. Content: creating engaging newsletters

There is a dual difficulty with newsletter creation: the content should be interesting and at the same time properly designed.

Let's assume that you know your audience and know what they find relevant, interesting, valuable and engaging. How do you go about putting all these into a nicely structured, visually appealing and mobile friendly newsletter?

How to tackle the newsletter design

Your objective should be to build a collection of one or more newsletter templates which you will use as basis for your future newsletters.

  • Do it yourself. Start using one of the three drag 'n drop editors in nuevoMailer. Of course there is a small learning curve involved, you will have to spend some time but in the end you will have something that you like and which is also responsive.
  • Hire a professional to design a few templates for you.
  • Search online for newsletter templates. You will find both free and paid. Here is an inspirational source.
  • Test. Whatever your approach make sure you test your final designs.

3. Deliverability issues

Depending on the quality of your mailing lists a number of your emails can sometimes end up in the spam folder. Ensuring that emails reach the recipient's inbox is a common challenge.

An email that lands in the spam folder is also considered delivered. If your subscriber has indicated you as a trusted sender then your email will land in the inbox.
If you are a cold or unknown sender the ESP will still evaluate your email, your domain's reputation and decide accordingly.

A common misconception and actually a question we often here is how to know if your email went into the inbox or in the spam folder. There is no way to know this. That would imply that we have access to the subscriber's inbox. Also ESPs do not report this. Think about it from your side; would you like an outsider to know what happens in your mailbox?

Here are some technical tips for improving deliverability.

What you can use to send your emails

Broadly speaking, 2-3 options are available.
1. Use the smtp service provided by your hosting company.
2. Use a dedicated 3rd party service (such as Amazon SES, Sendgrid, Postmark, Brevo etc.).
3. Setup your own mail server. If you know how to do this then you probably do not need to read further.

Using the smtp service provided by your hosting company

Practically every reputable hosting company will offer DKIM signing, option to add an SPF record and access to the DNS zone so you can add a DMARC record.
In most cases they add DKIM and SPF automatically when you create an email account.

But usually there is an email volume restriction with regular hosting accounts. They may allow anything from 400 to 800 emails per hour. This could be more than enough for many businesses.

When considering your Host's smtp for your email campaigns take into account the following:

  • A part of the available quota will be used for your regular, daily email communication.
  • The size of your mailing list.
  • How soon / fast you want to send your newsletters to the whole list. Can you spread the load over a few hours or days?
  • Regardless of the hourly quota you should also check whether your Hosting company permits the use of bulk mailing from their servers.

nuevoMailer has all the utilities you need to evenly distribute the load within the hour (using batches) and even set specific hours or days you want a campaign to run.

Using an external, 3rd party smtp service

This is the trend today. By external smtp service we mean providers such as Amazon SES, MailGun, SendGrid, MailJet, Mailersend, Mandrill, Postmark, Brevo and others.
The benefit in using such providers is that they undertake all the hard work of email delivery and take actions to keep their mailing servers clean.
They provide you SMTP credentials and / or an API endpoint with your own unique key.

Although they use different terms in general they will report back to you what's delivered, soft / hard bounces and spam complaints. In addition, they maintain suppression or block lists on your behalf (even if you neglect to do this) meaning that they will not send again to email accounts that bounced or complained.

Of course, you have to pay for their services and prices vary greatly. To give you an example the cost of sending with Amazon SES is $0.10 / 1000 emails. In other words US$1 for 10 thousand emails.

If you are evaluating a 3rd party smtp service provider consider the following:

  • Check their pricing and policies. They may not accept businesses from certain sectors (such as betting, adult entertainment etc.).
  • Simply because you pay it does not mean that you can send whatever to whomever. They don't like spamming and may also not allow unsolicited email.
  • They prefer that you have a low bounce rate, usually below 5% and they may suspend your account if you exceed this.
  • Some technical involvement from you is still necessary. In order to have DKIM and SPF records they will ask you to add some entries in your Host's DNS settings.
    This is not really difficult and usually they provide detailed instructions.
  • One final thing to cross-check with your hosting company. Ask them this question: Can I use an external smtp service to send my email campaigns?

nuevoMailer integrates with a number of major 3rd party smtp providers via the smtp or api methods. It also has webhooks to accept delivery, bounces and spam reports from these providers and update your campaign statistics and subscriber accounts. Check here for further details. We assist our customers with the integration work required: setting up sending methods, adding and testing the webhook endpoints and the related DNS entries.

4. Analyzing and understanding data

Email marketing comes with a lot of data, including open rates, click-through rates, bounce rates and other engagement metrics. Businesses may struggle to understand and analyze this data in order to evaluate and optimize their email marketing strategies.

For example, a low open rate might indicate that your subject lines aren't engaging, while a low click-through rate (CTR) could suggest that your email content isn't compelling enough. Understanding such data and what the various metrics mean will help you improve your strategy.

For instance, if certain types of content or specific subject lines consistently lead to higher engagement, it would be beneficial to use more of these elements into your emails.

List segmentation: data analysis can also help you in segmenting your email lists more effectively. By analyzing how different demographics interact with your emails, you can tailor your content to better suit each group, leading to higher engagement and conversion rates. List segmentation is critical in creating targeted email campaigns.

To give you an idea how nuevoMailer can help you with data analysis let's describe one of the many possible options.

  • You have already imported some demographic data of your subscribers. May be gender, profession, location, a special interest or similar. After sending your campaign and gathering some statistics you can create a distribution report based on campaign views. See an example
    Or you can create a new list that consists of subscribers who clicked specific link(s) and then further analyze / inspect this segment.
  • nuevoMailer can also help you with reducing email unsubscribe rates by giving you the option to ask subscribers to provide an opt-out reason which you can then see in a detailed report.
  • Figuring out the best time to send by checking your best hours and days reports or taking it to a higher level with send-time optimization.
  • See also:
    Mailing list segmentation,
    Reactivating dormant subscribers,
    A/B split testing,
    Conditional content blocks.

5. Compliance with regulations

Laws like the CAN-SPAM Act in the U.S. or the GDPR in Europe and CASL in Canada set strict rules for email marketing. Non-compliance can result in hefty fines. Many businesses find it challenging to fully understand and comply with these regulations.
In this article we cover some basic concepts that apply to most countries and laws. Specifically, we elaborate on the following:

  • Understanding the laws
  • Obtaining consent
  • Being transparent
  • Providing clear opt-out options
  • Keeping records
  • International considerations
  • Cold mailing. Continue reading...

6. Additional challenges

There is a number of other elements you should consider once you get started with email marketing such as,
Constantly evaluate and adjust your methods.
Building and implementing an email marketing strategy.
Integrate email marketing with other channels.
Being consistent in the long run.
Staying current on changing email marketing trends and regulations.

See also,

Top of page