6 Email Marketing Must-Haves to Dominate the Inbox

by Dustin J. Hall | 8 MIN READ

email marketing

If you could guess how many emails the average person sends and receives per day, what would it be? 50? 100? More than 100?!

According to a report by market research firm, The Radicati Group, the average person sends and receives roughly 120 emails per day.

I think it's fair to say we all know someone (if not ourselves) who gets far more than that with only a small fraction of those actually getting any attention.

So with all clutter out there, how can we ensure our emails are the ones people open and click through?

Here are 6 critical things your emails must have in order to separate themselves from the rest of the junk (pun intended) and actually contribute to your email marketing ROI.


Before you send an email, you should always ask yourself if it's relevant to the recipient.

Relevance is the most important part of any email. Just about any sound inbound marketing strategy, from basic email campaigns to social media campaigns to retargeting rely on relevance.

Here are some questions you should ask yourself before sending your next email:

  • Is it relevant to the contact's current stage within the sales cycle?
  • Is it relevant to their primary interests?
  • Is it relevant to their unique persona?

If the answer is "no" to any of these, don't bother sending send it. The minute you begin to develop a reputation as a company who sends irrelevant emails, the more likely you are to get ignored or even flagged as spam.

Short in Length

We can all agree we hate unnecessarily long emails. No one reads them all the way through. In fact, if the email is longer than a couple paragraphs, I delete it out of sheer principle - my finger acting like a tiny hammer of justice upon my mouse, sentencing it to death by deletion.

If you can't say what you need to within a couple short paragraphs, break it up. Even relatively complex subjects can still be broken down into simple bullet points. If it's too complicated for that, you're better off picking up the phone.

Quick tip: It's been my experience (as well as many other professional marketers) that plain text emails, sent from an individual and kept under one paragraph deliver the best response rates with the least likelihood of getting thrown into spam filters. This is assuming it meets the other requirements within this article, of course!

Clear Call-to-Action (CTA)

I don't mean clear as in transparent...making for the worst click-through-rates ever. I mean clear as in "to-the-point.

Just as any email must be relevant, it must also have a purpose. Otherwise, you might as well send an email just to say "hi." Good luck getting any response from that!

So, what might the purpose be?

Well, maybe you want them to download an ebook, sign up for a webinar or even respond to a proposal. All content within the email should direct them to this outcome using a clear CTA.

Here's an example using a previously downloaded ebook to direct the lead further down the sales funnel (purpose) using a clear CTA for an "Email Assessment:"

Hi Mr. Prospect,
Thanks again for downloading our eBook, "10 Ways to Become a Total Email Bad Ass." We know that sometimes an ebook has all the info you need and, sometimes, you just need a professional to give things a good look over.
If that's the case, you can schedule a free Email Assessment here.
Happy emailing,
Email Marketing Team of Awesomeness

Notice this example was short, relevant, had purpose and had a clear CTA.

Quick tip: For optimal results, I would even recommend adding an eye-catching CTA button and sending it directly from the sales rep responsible for managing that lead. However, I always recommend doing your own email testing to determine what works best for you.


email-marketing-personalizationOver the last several years, there have been a lot of advancements in email marketing automation software that allow senders to personalize their emails. It has become a critical tool in personalizing email content. When utilized correctly, it can help strengthen the relevance of your email dramatically.

If you are automating your emails or sending them out in bulk, you'll want to use what's commonly called "tokens" for this.

These tokens almost always include the basics, such as:

  • Contact First Name
  • Contact Last Name
  • Contact Email Address
  • Contact Phone Number
  • Contact Company Name

Some automation software providers, like Hubspot and Marketo, even allow you to use more advanced email personalization tokens, such as:

  • Contact Company URL
  • Contact Twitter Handle
  • Last Web Page Seen
  • Contact LinkedIn ID
  • Number of Employees
  • and more...

Quick Tip: When using any type of personalization, don't over-do it! Although basic tokens are the norm these days, you'll need to be careful when using more advanced tokens. More personalization does NOT always mean more relevance. It can quickly make you sound robotic and, quite frankly, creepy. For instance, you wouldn't want to open an email with, "Hi Scott with ABC Company of 11-35 employees. Thanks for visiting our web page Products & Services Descriptions last Tuesday at 3:22pm PST. Do you want to buy from us now?" No. Scott does not.


When it comes to email marketing, Ever heard the term, "Strike while the iron is hot?" Of course you have and email is no different! A well timed email can mean the difference between a prospect buying from you or buying from your competition.

Timing can also refer to the time of year (such as holiday email campaigns) or the current stage of a contact within your sales cycle. More specifically, you wouldn't want to send a contact an offer for a free assessment if they're already reviewing your proposal. That's bad timing.

Quick Tip: Properly implemented marketing automation workflows (sometimes called "tracks") can really help you lock in the timing thing, sending emails out at just the right time without you having to remember to send it manually.


Well, duh! If your email is sketchy and non-compliant, it will get flagged as spam or junk. This not only kills your open rates but also tarnishes the reputation of your IP address. Meaning even when you do start sending clean, compliant emails, they'll automatically get filtered away with the rest of the spammy trash due to your crummy reputation.

Before sending any emails of any kind, take the time to understand the CAN-SPAM act and what it means to email marketing.

Quick Tip: Be compliant. Seriously.


If you want to crush the opposition in the war of inbox supremacy, you've first got to abide by the above must-haves.

The better you incorporate them, the better your email marketing performance and reputation will be.

Your email metrics are important, but are they as important to your leadership team?

Download the 6 Metrics Your Boss Actually Cares About Here

Originally published July 14, 2014. Updated November 20, 2017.