What is Email Marketing? [A Beginner’s Guide]

Email marketing is the process of sending email messages to subscribers to encourage an action. The “action” can be anything from reading a blog post to making a purchase.

Email marketing is often said to be the highest ROI digital marketing channel because it is an owned channel with low startup costs. Add in the factor that subscribers are more likely to buy than completely new audiences and you’ve got a winning combination. The numbers vary, but from what we’ve seen, email can easily generate a 42:1 ROI. That means for every $1 you spend, you can expect to make around $42.

At Elemental, we are email marketing advocates because we know it is the best way for small businesses to increase brand awareness while building meaningful and profitable relationships with past, present, and future customers. If your goal is to build a legion of loyal customers, then email marketing is the solution.

Keep reading to learn about getting started with email marketing, the different types of email marketing campaigns, and how to optimize your email marketing efforts.

How to Get Started

1. Build Your Email List

To start email marketing, you first need to gather subscribers. Of course, you don’t want to spam people, so that means you’ll need to receive consent before sending out messages.

When building an email list, you need to pay attention to regulations and ensure you’re in compliance. The CAN-SPAM Act is the primary law to follow in the United States, while CASL applies to Canada and GDPR is the law of the land in the European Union. It’s important to note that these regulations are based on your location and the location of your subscribers.

The best way to get started is to add at least one form to your website. If you’re using a CMS like WordPress, there are literally hundreds of options to choose from. Our favorite is Fluent Forms, but there are many great options. Depending on your business, adding a pop-up might not be a bad idea.

If you’re on Shopify, almost every theme has a built-in email signup form. To set it up:

  1. Go to Online Store -> Themes.
  2. Then click Customize.
  3. Click Add section.
  4. Click Newsletter, then click Add.
  5. Enter your heading and subheading.
  6. Don’t forget to save.

Once you have your form set up, start by asking your friends, family, social media followers, etc. to sign up for your newsletter.

Next, create coupons or lead magnets to get website visitors to sign up for your mailing list. An incentive could be something like 20% off a purchase or a free consultation for your services.

2. Choose an Email Service Provider (ESP)

While you could send emails directly from your normal email address, we wouldn’t recommend it. Using a dedicated email service provider while make it easier to manage your lists, build campaigns, adhere to email regulations, etc.

There are a lot of email marketing tools out there, but we obviously think ours is the best.

Elemental is a great email marketing platform for beginners. If you want to see how it works, we invite you to schedule a demo with our sales team. We’ll walk you through the platform and explain exactly how it could benefit your specific use case. We’ll even tell you if Elemental is not the best email marketing software for the job.

3. Build Your First Campaign

Now that you have an audience and selected an ESP, it’s time to build your first campaign. For beginners, we recommend starting with a basic newsletter-style email. Email newsletters are usually manual messages that let your subscribers now what’s going on with your business.

With Elemental, you can choose from a huge library of email templates. Don’t see a template you like? Then, you can use our drag-and-drop builder to easily create your own.

After you pick a template, it’s as easy as designing and writing your email. We could spend hours talking about email design and copywriting, instead we’ll leave you with these quick tips for creating a great email:

  • Make your subject line stand out. Eye-catching email subject lines are the best way to increase your open rates. Be original and on-brand.
  • Don’t forget preview text. Preview text is kind of like the subject line’s little brother. It is often overlooked but it equally important.
  • Be conversational. Email marketing is effective because it allows you to connect with your audience, often on a personal level. Use a conversational tone and invite interaction.
  • Use your brand’s style. In Elemental, uploading your logo and editing colors to match your website is easy. This will make your email subscribers more comfortable.
  • Optimize your CTAs. CTAs (or calls to action) are often buttons or links that you want readers to click. Split testing (sometimes called A/B testing) is the best way to optimize CTAs, but a rule of thumb is to make them clear and obvious.

4. Send a Test

Before you send your email out to the world, send a test message to yourself. Here’s a quick checklist to make sure your email is as good as it can be:

  • Is there an eye-catching subject line?
  • Does the preview text make subscribers want to open the email?
  • Does the email match my brand’s logo and colors?
  • Is the email copy free of errors?
  • Do all links go where they are supposed to go? Don’t forget footer links!
  • Do I give the option to unsubscribe from future emails?

5. Send or Schedule your Campaign!

Once everything is tested and ready to go, it’s time to send your campaign! Or, if it’s three in the morning, you might want to schedule it to go out the next day.

After your email goes out, keep an eye on important email marketing metrics. For your first send, pay extra attention to email deliverability. If your deliverability is low (or your bounce rates are high), you might have a problem with your list. Once again, make sure your subscribers opt in. If you don’t, you probably won’t get passed spam filters, and your messages could end up in the spam folder (not good).

Type of Email Marketing Campaigns

Email marketing campaigns come in all shapes and sizes. For simplicity, we will break it down into three categories: promotional, transactional, behavior-based, and newsletters.

Promotional Emails

Promotional emails are messages designed to promote a specific product, service, event, etc. The best example is the Black Friday/Cyber Monday email. These promotional messages often push a sale or new product and are a great way to convert new subscribers.

Transactional Emails

Transactional emails are related to a sale. Transactional emails include order confirmations, shipping notifications, return emails, etc. At Elemental, we believe transactional emails are one of the most overlooked message types in email marketing. Since transactional emails have above-average open rates, these emails are an excellent opportunity to upsell and cross-sell. Transactional emails are usually automated.

Behavior-Based Emails

Behavior-based emails are sent when a subscriber takes a specific action. For example, you may send an email to someone if you know they viewed the pricing page on your website. Or, you may send a cart abandonment email when someone adds something to their cart but doesn’t checkout.

The most basic behavior-based message is the welcome email. Your welcome email is the first email someone receives after signing up for your email list.


Finally, we have the humble newsletter. Newsletters are usually manually created on a set schedule (once a week or once a month are common) and sent to the majority of subscribers. For more advanced newsletters, the audiences are segmented and personalized.

Key Components of a Successful Email Marketing Strategy

Effective email marketing can be a lot of work. But if you set up everything correctly, a lot of it can be done on autopilot. Here are three key factors to incorporate into a successful email marketing campaign.


Personalization is the act of customizing an email based on the intended recipient. Personalized emails tend to have higher click-through rates and conversion rates. One simple way to personalize an email is to use the recipient’s name in the subject line or salutation. A more advanced method would be to showcase products or services that the recipient recently viewed on your website.


Personalization is impossible to scale without list segmentation. Segmentation is the act of splitting your subscriber list into smaller categories using customer data. Segmentation is important because not every subscriber is interested in the same content.

For example, you may create an email segment for subscribers interested in dogs and another for subscribers interested in cats.


Finally, there is automation. Marketing automation is when you set up certain emails (or a series of emails) to send automatically. For example, behavior-based emails and transactional emails should almost always be automated.

Without email automation, your marketing team will quickly become overwhelmed and ineffective. With automation, you can drive sales on autopilot.