Email marketing, or eBlasts, has become a waste of time for many organizations. Their open rates are low and the click-through rates are even lower. The number of contacts that trickle through to the desired action, like a sale, can make the process feel like a waste of time.

But is it really?

Open rates vary by industry. Engagement varies by organization. But, effectiveness starts with understanding what makes an eBlast worth your time.

1. When You Have a Good List

I once had an acquaintance approach me for advice on her email marketing. She said that some people weren’t opening her non-profit organization’s monthly newsletter and she wanted to change her percentage rate. When I asked how many people were opening her eBlasts, she said 98%.

I was shocked.

Then, I told her that was actually very good…unusually good. Curious about the phenomenon, I asked to see her list. It was a very targeted list of fewer than 200 contacts. Everyone was very engaged with her organization and almost all of them opened her eBlasts monthly. For the remaining contacts, I did a little digging and helped her make a few small changes that got her emails past their junk mail folders.

My acquaintance had stumbled upon a cornerstone of effective email marketing. She built a great distribution list.

While this situation is a bit unique, it points out the major flaw with most email marketing. Groups are using lists of people who never want to hear from them.

But, if they simply cleaned up their lists to include only those who want to hear from them, the engagement would be higher.

Call a Spam a Spam

Many organizations that I’ve worked with wouldn’t consider themselves spammers. They didn’t “buy” lists. Instead, they collected email addresses over the years through various means like point-of-sale systems. But, they also never asked people if they wanted to be on an email distribution list. Even if they did, they changed email frequency or content during that time.

The result?

They are using a large list full of people who never open eBlasts. After a while, their messages are marked as junk and disappear into the deleted files.

We all know this fact intuitively: People only want eBlasts about brands and messages that interest them right now. However, organizations also keep hitting up contacts that haven’t opened an email in years.

I think this is born out of a fear that the organization will lose something. Contacts are valuable and they worry that retiring an email address lowers their opportunity. But, sending emails is not a coin flip with a 50/50 chance of an open each time you send.

Instead, you need to sort and divide contacts to make emailing worth your time.

Divide Your Contacts

Dividing contacts is easy when you dig a little into your data. OK. It will probably be time-consuming but, it will be easy. You just need to separate by a few metrics.

You need to get real about the fact that many of your contacts probably don’t want emails from you.

First, remove anyone who has marked you as junk or spam. Many email systems do this automatically. If yours doesn’t, you can still identify them with the help of your email system. A little searching on your platform’s forums can help you identify these email contacts. Then, you can remove them completely from your system.

If it makes you queasy to actually delete them, consider them “retired.” Put them in a list on your server to rest for a while. Then, send one last email asking them to “opt-in.” Only activate the accounts that respond to that final message.

Second, sort out the contacts that actually click on links. These are more valuable than those that merely open. Clicking indicates that they are both reading and responding to the content. Also, some email systems “open” messages automatically when they pop up in the display window. If someone is clicking on your messages, they belong on your distribution list.

For those who open, but don’t click, ask them if they are still interested. If they opt-in, add them back to your distribution list. If they don’t, retire them as well.

Track Better

The two steps above are the bare minimum for identifying engaged contacts. Depending on what system you use, you can further segment your lists. This allows you to better target each list with a message that interests them.

Even beyond the data in your email service, you can simply ask. Send a message semi-annually asking contacts to opt-in again for their preferred categories. Your contacts will appreciate your sensitivity to their over-flowing inbox.

2. When You Need to Customize the Experience

Expanding on the concept above, a targeted email list can help you send the perfect message to the right contact. By contrast to other mediums, like social media posts or traditional advertising, you can send messages with offers that relate to them.

Obviously, you need to be in full control of your data. Otherwise, the messages will fall flat (at best) or seem really creepy (at worst). However, if you do it properly, you can set up email blasts, email automation, or even AI options that correspond to appropriate user actions.

Note: It’s more than just adding (FirstName) into the greeting.

As an example, Amazon is extremely good at this. They send offers based on your cart, on-site clicks, and tracked search activity.

Similarly, you can use email marketing to customize the experience for your contacts.

Dig into Data

Start by looking through your sales records. Do your current customers fall into buckets or behavior? It’s likely that they do. Pick one group of contacts with commonalities and think about an offer that would delight them. Maybe you can offer a complimentary product or service to go with something they already bought.

Based on that, set up an email blast with an offer based on that purchase. If it works, turn it into automation.

Then, start looking for ways to do this with different groups on your distribution list.

Make Connections

Speaking of automations, I’m sure you’re starting to see how linking your email contacts to website activity creates necessary connections for real personalization. You will need to embrace both website development and marketing tactics to make these connections. Through a mix of software, ingenuity, and careful review, you can find ways to link a user’s website activity to your email marketing.

Although you have to be smart to avoid the creep factor, it is possible. Message tone can balance out your insights when done correctly.

3. When You Created a Valuable Offer

As part of several marketing research projects over the years, I’ve anecdotally discussed email marketing with consumers. Surprisingly, people like emails from the brands they adore.

There is a catch, though.

The offer must be valuable. The content must be something that they can’t get anywhere else. If the message works on social media, a digital ad, or an in-store sign, try not to put it in eBlasts as well.

Instead, reserve email for things that your contact can’t find anywhere else.


Emails are annoying and disruptive. We all spend hours each week (2.5 hours for office workers) deleting messages from our clogged inboxes. So, it takes something really special to make us read and interact with an eBlast.


Consider running an offer only for people on your email list. Don’t just make it for the sign-up. Give offers to your email lists regularly that can’t be accessed through another channel.

If you put the tracking tools in place, as noted above, you can target the offer to your contact’s behavior. If not, you can still determine a valuable offer based on sales data over time. Either way, this will give your emails a reputation of high value.


While eBlasts should get to the point quickly, that doesn’t mean they need to be boring. One of the easiest ways to expand your options is to do a landing page/email combination. Make the email preview a special offer and encourage a click on the landing page. Then make sure that page is full of treats (both offers and creative) to delight them.

Make the Most of Your Time

If you don’t want to waste your time on emails then, don’t waste your contacts’ time. Instead, focus your most valuable messages on people who really want to hear from you. Then, your engagement (and overall ROI) from email marketing will improve over time.

Additional Resources

  • CAN-SPAM Act: A Compliance Guide for Business, from
  • 24 Email Marketing Stats Every Business Owner Should Know, from Entrepreneur