11 Tips to Improve Your Email Marketing in 2021

On November 30, 2020
9min read
Irina Nica Senior Marketing Manager @Hubspot

What a year 2020 has been! 

The more I try to find a suitable phrase to describe this year, the more I feel like I’m missing something. So many things have changed or have been impacted by the pandemic, it’s hard to find a phrase that describes it accurately.

And while I’m tempted to say 2021 will be like this or like that, the truth is there is a lot of uncertainty still ahead. That’s why it’s so important to pay attention to how we communicate with our audiences and adapt to the changes that happened in their lives (and ours). This means taking another look at what our priorities are and what best practices we use.

In this article, I’ve gathered the 11 most important email marketing best practices I find essential to grow and thrive in 2021.

Why it is so important to pay attention to email marketing best practices 

According to Statista, there were roughly 306.4 billion emails sent and received each day in 2020. This number is expected to increase to 361 billion daily emails by 2024. If there was any doubt that email might be “dead”, these stats should be enough to convince any business that email is here to stay.

In fact, email marketing can become one of the most effective ways to keep in touch with your customers, prospects, and partners, especially during a challenging year. If you think about, your email subscribers have actively showed interest to hear from your brand. They are probably one of your most engaged audience.

That’s why email might be the best way to communicate relevant news, entertain and engage with your audience. So make sure you’re doing everything you can to keep investing and improving your email marketing channel in 2021.

To help you review and update your email marketing strategy for 2021, I’ve put together this list of best practices and tips that you should keep in mind.

Email Marketing Tips for 2021

  1. Send fewer, more relevant emails
  2. Personalize your email copy
  3. Set email benchmarks
  4. Pay attention to email design and Dark Mode users
  5. Optimize for mobile
  6.  A/B test subject lines, email copy and CTAs
  7. Pay attention to list growth
  8. Make it super-easy for people to unsubscribe
  9. Experiment with emojis
  10. Prepare for tighter privacy regulations
  11. Use email data to inform other marketing channels 

Send fewer, more relevant emails

This pandemic has changed consumer behaviors (and lives) in so many ways. It changed how people use their finances, how they work, what they do with their spare time, and probably many other aspects I can’t even think of right now… For many of us, the new social distancing rules have also changed the way we interact with others. 

This means we have more Zoom meetings, that in-person gatherings (if any). More email conversations. More Slacks, Skypes, Hangouts, Whatsapp messages… and the list goes on. 

To put things in perspective, just think that the number of meetings held on Zoom increased by 2900% since December of last year. 

Zoom peak daily meeting participants

December 2019~ 10 million
March 2020200 million +
April 2020300 million +
Source: BusinessofApps.com

In this “new normal”, when we’re all bombarded with messages and information, we’re probably more tempted than ever to delete spammy, irrelevant messages.

To avoid being deleted or lost in the clutter, take a look and see if you can send fewer emails in 2021, and only keep the most relevant ones. 

Way back in 2015, at HubSpot, we unsubscribed 250 000 people from our Marketing Blog and started sending far fewer emails. Our email marketing workflows had become too complex and that resulted in a not so lovely experience for our readers. After the purge, we saw a big improvement in our engagement rates, and since then, we’ve been investing more in our subscribers’ experience. 

Evaluate if it might be time for a spring-cleaning of your own, and keep evaluating each message by relevancy. 

Hyper-personalize your email copy

Personalization matters more than ever. 

According to a 2019 Econsultancy study, 37% of brands are planning to add content personalization to their email marketing practices. A study by Litmus shows that 60% of the marketers they interviewed see amping up personalization as a top priority for 2021. 

Where many brands fail is that they associate personalization with adding the recipient’s name in the subject line or in the greeting. In fact, personalization is actually related to the content that’s delivered, based on advanced segmentation. 

For instance, let’s say you own an online makeup store and you want to send a personalized email with a Black Friday offer. Ideally, you’ll have stored in your CRM enough details about your subscribers (such as their color preferences, skin sensitivities, etc.) to create advanced workflows and send the right product offers to the right person. 

Personalization in 2021 will have to involve advanced segmentation and a deep understanding of the different audiences you serve.

Set email benchmarks

As you get set for next year, set your email benchmarks for email open rate, click-through rate, and unsubscribe rate. These benchmarks will help you keep a high standard for your emails and keep your audience engaged.

You can establish these benchmarks based on your past performance or look at industry averages. 

According to a research conducted by HubSpot, these are the average email open rates and click-through rates benchmarks for all industries:

Source: HubSpot
Source: HubSpot

Pay attention to email design and Dark Mode users

A beautifully designed email will help you stand out in an inbox that’s already cluttered and bombarded with messages. 

If you’re just getting started with email marketing, Canva is probably the way to go. To my experience is once of the best and most easy-to-use design tools. You can play around with it to create your own email template or get some inspiration from their rich templates library

For even more inspiration, you can also go to reallygoodemails.com where you can find a collection of emails from popular brands, segmented by email type, industry, or popularity. It’s a really cool collection!   

Note: (Shameless plug alert) Just in case you’re looking for ready-made templates and an easy-to-use tool, know that HubSpot Email Marketing is free to start with. It includes a library of pre-designed templates and a drag-and-drop email template builder, if you want to get creative and make your own. You can use it to send up to 2000 emails/month, after which it’s $50/mo for the Starter plan.

If you’re more advanced, in 2021 you need to consider Dark Mode users when designing your marketing emails. Dark Mode is a color scheme that makes it easier for users to look at their screens at night. It uses darker backgrounds, lighter icons and fonts, and automatically reduces screen brightness to ensure a better reading experience at night. 

Dark mode is probably one of the hottest, design trends in the past year. And most popular email clients already support this feature:

Mobile Apps

  • iPhone Mail
  • iPad Mail
  • Gmail App (Android)
  • Gmail App (iOS)
  • Outlook App (Android)
  • Outlook App (iOS)
  • Desktop Clients

Apple Mail

  • Outlook 2019 (Mac OS)
  • Outlook 2019 (Windows)

Web Clients

  • Outlook.com
  • Hey.com

Depending on what email clients your audience uses, you can start adapting your email design and potentially include a Dark Mode to your collection. 

Note: Adapting your design doesn’t have to be about coming up with flashy elements. One way you can stand out is to make a conscious decision to keep your messages clean, like the team at StickerMule does:

Optimize for mobile 

According to Litmus’ State of Email report, this year webmail has surpassed mobile by a few % points as the top way to read email. 76% of webmail is attributed to Gmail (not a huge surprise there, actually), while 84% of mobile emails are opened on Apple iPhone. 

This trend seems to be another side-effect of people working more from home, having a less frequent or no commute at all. 

That said, mobile-optimization should remain a top priority for email marketers in 2021. 

If you have a strong mobile readership, also know that, according to the previously cited study, users are spending more time with the content on their mobile devices than on desktop/webmail. 

A/B test subject lines, email copy and CTAs

If there’s one thing that will probably remain true, no matter the context, is that a/b testing is the surest way to learn more about your audience. And audiences’ behavior changes a lot over time (just take 2020 for example) so there’s a constant need for testing, learning and improving your emails or landing pages.

Note: There are ways in which you can improve your email copy and copywriting skills; part of this is just practice, but there are also tools that can help optimize your process or your grammar. For instance, I’m using Clearscope for SEO and Grammarly while I’m writing this. If you want to explore more useful software, check out these lists of content writing tools and grammar checkers.

Going back to our general testing topic, there are a lot of tools that can help you with that as well.

For one, there’s Mailtrap that lets you safely test your email functionality. It captures your test emails and provides options for inspecting and debugging your templates. With Mailtrap, all your email tests are neatly organized in one place and can’t be sent to real subscribers by mistake.

There are a lot of other testing tools that can help with a specific aspect of your email: CoSchedule for testing your email subject line, Mail-Tester by Mailpoet, ZeroBounce or Mailgun, just to name a few. 

Pay attention to list growth

Your email list (subscribers and marketing contacts) is growing all the time, as a result of your marketing efforts. 

But no matter how good your email marketing campaigns might be, you’re always losing some of those subscribers. Some email addresses expire or people move on and no longer wish to receive email messages from you. But there’s no reason to panic. 

There’s a natural decay of your email marketing list, and it expires by about 22.5% every year. 

The bottom line here is that no one is escaping database decay, no matter how much you optimize your messaging and unsubscribe rates. The one thing any business can do is to pay attention to growing the subscribers’ list and keeping that at a healthy size. 

Note: Sometimes it’s in your best interest to manually clean your database, without waiting for it to naturally “decay”.

Make it super-easy for people to unsubscribe 

After the open rate and click rate, the unsubscribe rate is the most used KPI in email marketing. 

An easy way to unsubscribe from an email newsletter is not only morally (and legally) OK, but it’s also a way to give your readers a great experience. 

So if you’re not already doing that, give your subscribers the option to remove themselves from your email list and declutter their inbox.

Don’t be afraid to use your copywriting skills to make that a smooth breakup.  

Here are just a few examples of creative copy from popular email newsletters I get in my inbox: 

  • The Hustle: If you don’t like it, unsubscribe at any time. Seriously, no hard feelings.
  • Product Hunt: We send this email daily. Feel free to switch to weekly or turn off these emails any time.
  • Headspace: You can unsubscribe from these emails here (Don’t worry, we won’t take it personally).

Finally, here are some stats to see if your unsubscribe rate is aligned with your industry average:

Source: HubSpot

Experiment with emojis 

Like them or not (I personally <3 them), emojis are here to stay. 

If you think about it, it makes so much sense to use emoji in email communication. Emojies have already become the norm in WhatsApp or text messaging. So why not accept they have become a standard communication feature, no matter the channel.

Plus, emojis can be a great way to make your subject line stand out, emphasize your message or create a sense of urgency (say you’re offering a huge discount over a limited period of time). 

I fell for Mixtiles’ special offers more than once and I don’t really regret it. Plus, I love their emojis-powered subject lines. 

Prepare for tighter privacy regulations

No matter where you are in the world, the future probably holds tighter anti-spam laws. And you should take them very seriously, as many email recipients do. 

In recent years, the European Union started doing more to protect the data and privacy of its consumers through the implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation (the GDPR).

This decision has increased awareness among consumers around the world and other countries have started taking similar measures. 

In the US, the legislation varies state by state, but there’s a sign that legislators have data protection on their agenda for coming years. So take early steps to make sure you’re compliant with the current best practices. 

Use email data to inform other marketing channels

Finally, in 2021 be aware that email has the power to boost your entire content marketing efforts, especially those related to SEO.

2021 will require better personalization, more relevant information, more adapted communication to each individual user. While email will also require all of these, it can also be the source to inform other marketing activities. 

By tracking the right metrics, you can learn more about each reader’s preferences: what content they enjoy the most, what content they ignore, what triggers their interest. 

Then, you can use this data to create better, more engaging content.

Key takeaway: Always put the reader first 

All these best practices are here to inspire you or get you thinking about aspects of email marketing you might have missed before. But at the end of the day, your priorities should mirror your audience’s preferences. 

The most important thing to remember is that you’re doing this for the readers.  And as long as you put your email subscribers first, you have a solid plan for 2021. 

Let me know in the comments below if there are any other best practices I should include for 2021. 

Article by Irina Nica Senior Marketing Manager @Hubspot

Irina is a marketer and international keynote speaker based in Dublin, Ireland. She’s currently working at HubSpot, on a program called “Surround Sound”, where she is focused on building awareness for the company’s freemium products. Irina was also one of the Head Judges for the 2020 Global Search Awards and has been on the judging panel for the 2020 European Search Awards.


1 replies

Vedant Darji

Great Article! Email marketing will grow more in 2021.

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