From basic to brilliant: 8 must-have email marketing features
No marketing channel is guaranteed to bring in revenue, but email may be as close as it gets.
When you invest in email marketing, you can expect an average ROI of 122% and a conversion rate that’s 3x higher than social media. There are a few reasons for this:
- Facebook’s 90-day attribution window inflates ROI metrics, encouraging large brands to shift more spend to paid social. Now the ad marketplace is so competitive that cost per acquisition—the amount it costs to get one customer through paid social—is too expensive for most ecommerce brands.
- Apple’s data privacy changes wiped out much of the audience-targeting parameters that made paid social a viable option for small businesses.
- Email is where your brand gets attention only after getting permission. By contrast, shoppers passively consume social media ads while scrolling—or, worse, skip them altogether in order to get to the real reason they’re on social: entertainment, information, and connection.
As inflation and a looming recession continue to threaten profit margins, many ecommerce brands are re-investing in email as a cost-effective marketing channel that helps you keep up with trends in email marketing and nurtures long-term relationships.
The good news is that email marketing has come a long way throughout its 45-year history. The era of showering your entire list with the same offers and promotions is over (or should be), as modern marketing platforms are able to segment audiences based on behavior, optimize content through better A/B testing, and provide reliable metrics that measure engagement against revenue.
If you want to know the ins and outs of how email marketing can work smarter for your brand, you’re in the right place. Keep reading to learn about 8 of the best email marketing tools a platform should come with—not as add-ons, but as a standard part of any platform powering your email marketing strategy in 2023.
1. Sign-up form builder
A sign-up form on your website is your primary tool for collecting email addresses to grow your email list.
Most sign-up forms are simple, capturing not much more than an email address and maybe a name. But a lot of brands experiment with collecting:
- Phone numbers for SMS campaigns
- Birthdays for special offers
- Product interest or preferential data for tailored promotions
All of this information falls under the category of Customer-First Data™, which is a key component of permission-based marketing.
Customer-First Data is a combination of zero-party data and first-party data:
1. Zero-party data is information someone offers voluntarily to a brand, like their email address or phone number.
2. First-party data is information a brand observes about someone on their owned properties, where they collect consent.
Dive deeper: Learn about 15 Customer-First Data points that can help you communicate more relevant offers to your email list.
Facts about sign-up forms to help you structure yours:
- 85% of sign-up forms have 2 fields or less.
- Forms with up to 5 fields only see a tiny dip in conversion (<0.1%).
- Forms have higher submission rates on mobile (3.2%) than on desktop (2.3%).
Why sign-up forms matter
Growth: The money is in the list. Your owned channels—email and SMS—are channels you control, unlike social media algorithms that can change on a whim. When you grow your email list, you’re growing your base of potential customers whom you can nurture long-term.
Personalization: Email sign-up forms collect information that allows you to segment your audience into different lists, which creates an experience tailored to interest, communication medium (email or SMS), frequency, etc.
Key sign-up form features
- Ecommerce platform integration (to set up email marketing for Shopify, BigCommerce, WooCommerce, etc.)
- Customizable, user-friendly form templates
- Form options: embedded, pop-up, fly-out, or full landing pages
- Dynamic fields functionality (email, phone number, radio button, checkbox, dropdown, etc.)
- Targeting conditions (by visitor location, email list, device, etc.)
Sign-up form use case example
Wilkinson Sword UK, a centuries-old razor brand, discovered that adding product interest checkboxes to their sign-up form led to a welcome series purchase rate of 39%—almost 20x the average.
2. Email segmentation and list management
Audience segmentation is the backbone of a personalized email strategy. When you segment your email contact lists, you’re slicing and dicing your audience groupings based on behavior like purchasing habits, website activity, email engagement, and customer support or service interactions.
Personalizing emails to behavior means tailoring content to:
- Website visitors: to send emails based on product pages viewed
- Campaign engagers: to follow up with people who are most interested
- Buyers: to increase average spend and repeat purchases
- App activity: to engage with your “stickiest” users
Why email segmentation matters
Segmentation matters because of relevance—the more personalized the message, the higher the value you’re providing to the recipient. When recipients get messages related to an action they took, they’re more likely to engage because of a sense of urgency and immediacy.
Key email segmentation features
- Large list of segment triggers: Add someone to a list when they take action on your website, have certain attributes, live somewhere specific, etc.
- List cleaning: Stop sending to people who haven’t engaged in a while, and improve email deliverability.
- Predictive analytics: Create future VIP segments based on certain signals, like a high predicted customer lifetime value (CLV).
- Loyalty program integrations: Connect customer VIPs to loyalty programs for more repeat purchases.
Email segmentation use case
Solo Stove started sending customers product suggestions based on items frequently bought together with their specific purchase. As a result, they improved their click-through rates (CTRs) by 50%, decreased their reliance on Amazon, and directed traffic to their own online store.
3. Pre-built library of email templates and automations
Many email marketers have come before you—so there’s no need to start from scratch with your strategy, content, or email design.
An email template library makes it easy to create well-designed emails that match your brand, whereas an email automation library can teach you strategies and tactics you may not have thought possible.
Why email templates matter
Templates save time and resources, which is great—but they can also increase revenue by showing you what’s worked for other brands.
An email automation library is what you can draw from when you don’t know where to begin with your strategy. For example, you may have a theory that customers who are educated on product care and maintenance buy more products. An email automation library is where you would find a post-purchase flow template that can test that theory on an ongoing basis, with no manual work beyond the initial set-up.
An email template library saves you time creating beautiful emails that reflect your brand, without a graphic designer. When you customize a template instead of starting from scratch, you’re walking away with a gorgeous email that requires zero graphic design work.
Key email template features
- Drag-and-drop HTML builder
- Dynamic blocks that change based on behaviors
- AI-powered subject line generator
- Brand font upload
- Large template database
Email template use case
Premier, a skateboard apparel shop, didn’t reinvent the wheel when they increased their revenue with a price drop trigger. They found the automation in a template library and decided to give it a try. When they lowered the price on an item, a segment of their list received an email notification—and the store made $4K almost overnight.
4. Email automation
Email marketing automation is personalization at scale.
When you use email automation workflows, you’re sending messages to people after they do something, like subscribe to a list or browse a product page on your website. This eliminates the manual labor of adding people to a recipient list or pressing send, without sacrificing the benefits of a personalized message.
Why email automation tools matter
Email automation allows you to make money from your email marketing strategy while you’re not actively managing the program or pressing send on your computer. According to Klaviyo data, automated emails drive over 14x higher revenue per recipient (RPR) than manual campaigns.
Key email automation features
- Large automation library: Set up a welcome series, browse abandonment flow, cart abandonment flow, price drop triggers, post-purchase messages, etc.
- Predictive analytics: Create future VIP segments based on certain signals, like a high predicted CLV.
- Smart send time: Find the best time to email your recipients.
- Smart sending: Prevent too many emails from going to recipients who have just heard from you.
Email automation use case
In February 2020, Grind Cafe was facing the possibility of closure because of the pandemic. This is when email automations became a lifeline. Even though they only invested in email marketing due to limited time and resources, by the end of Q2 2020, Grind saw a 675% increase in revenue compared to Q1—and a 3.1K% increase YoY.
5. A/B testing
A/B testing, also known as split testing, lets you create multiple variations of the same email to test which one performs better with a subset of your audience.
Paired with automation technology, an A/B testing tool automatically sends your highest-converting email to all recipients once a winner has been determined.
Why A/B testing matters
A/B testing adds scientific rigor to your email marketing strategy by informing your decisions with real-time data over guesswork. According to Ariyh, startups that A/B test see increased engagement by anywhere from 30% to 100% after a year.
- Variable options: Test sender name, subject line, color and layout, copy, CTA, and send time.
- Test parameters: Specify how many recipients will receive the A/B test and how long the test will last.
- Test success automation: Send successful variations quickly to the rest of your list for best results.
A/B testing use case example
While it’s standard to encourage email sign-ups by offering a discount code, some brands may not want to lose out on potential revenue. Brava Fabrics used A/B testing to see if they could avoid leaving money on the table.
They tested a 10% discount against a contest that entered people to win €300 in free products for signing up. The two options performed identically, and it was the data they needed to confidently go ahead with the more budget-friendly contest option.
As a bonus, they also tested €300 against €1K and found that increasing the prize amount didn’t increase the conversion rate.
6. Email analytics and reporting
You can’t improve what you don’t measure or benchmark. When you invest in email marketing, you’ll need to know whether or not your strategy is working. That means measuring things like:
- Conversion rate
- Deliverability rates
- Unsubscribe rate
- Return on investment (ROI)
Why email analytics and reporting matter
“Reporting is a must-have,” says Morgan Mulloy, director of retention marketing at Avex Designs. “To have a platform that helps clearly and accurately show your results without jumping through a million hoops adds tons of value.”
Key email analytics and reporting features
- Accurate attribution windows: Email can only take so much credit for a sale. If someone buys because of an email campaign or automation, you’ll want to know—but you’ll also want to know if another channel influenced that sale. We recommend 5- to 7-day attributions for emails, as this reflects how people actually engage with their inboxes.
- Onsite tracking: Track website activity so you can automatically send emails based on engagement metrics.
- Reporting options: Choose between many easy-to-read reports, like reports for specific segments and lists, campaigns, overall trends, etc.
7. Email integrations
Your email strategy doesn’t exist in a bubble. Your business also depends on your ecommerce platform, website, ecommerce CRM, loyalty programs, etc. Tech innovations for online stores have come leaps and bounds in the last decade, and you’ll want to draw on as much of that innovation as possible to fuel your email strategy.
Why email integrations matter
“The ability to ingest data from your ecommerce platform and all other third-party apps is crucial. If you don’t have all of the data on your subscribers in one place, you aren’t able to effectively deploy an email segmentation and personalization strategy,” points out Brandon Amoroso, founder & president at Electriq.
Key email integration features
- Flexible APIs: Allow your team to build custom integrations that fit your needs.
- Large list of integrations: Choose from a large list of possible integrations so you’re not limiting your email strategy.
- Community support: Get answers from people who use the same integrations you do, and browse forums for ideas.
Email integration use case
INSERT NAME HERE (INH) uses interactive quizzes to gather data on customer preferences, about everything from the perfect ponytail to extension length.
To unlock results, INH collects an email address. The integration between INH’s quiz software and their ESP makes it easy for them to create personalized follow-up emails for products based on hair color, length, style, and more.
8. SMS marketing
Whereas email marketing is great for a variety of content types, SMS plays best with time-sensitive content—which translates to a better post-purchase experience, immediate product feedback, and higher conversion among VIPs.
But that doesn’t mean email and SMS should run as separate strategies. For best results, you’ll need to craft both strategies around each other so they’re working in tandem—and you’ll need a marketing platform that incorporates both.
Why SMS matters in an email marketing platform
An email marketing solution that also incorporates SMS resolves attribution issues by telling you exactly which channel is responsible for a sale. You’ll also be able to use all the customer data you already have for your email marketing campaigns (with consent, of course) and compare performance to email side by side, which will influence your email strategy and SMS strategy in lock-step.
Key SMS marketing features
- Drag-and-drop editor for building HTML
- Smart sending rules and quiet hours
- AI-powered SMS assistant that generates compliant text copy in seconds
- Dynamic product images based on shopping behavior
- Emojis and discount codes
- Consent tracking and other compliance features
SMS marketing use case
Tatti Lashes’ customers are more likely to use a mobile phone than desktop to browse and shop. After gathering this data from their website metrics, the brand used incentives to collect 40K SMS subscribers in 3 months. When their SMS flows were in full swing, the brand saw a 30% click rate on their welcome message—and, eventually, SMS generated 35% of all owned marketing revenue for the brand.
Getting started with email marketing software
There’s a lot riding on your choice of marketing automation platform—the ability to go above and beyond to engage your audience and cultivate long-standing relationships, accurately report on what’s working and what’s falling short, and gain access to modern tech that helps you optimize and iterate your designs and copy, just to name a few.
It’s critical to choose the best email marketing service that will deliver the experiences your customers want—and the revenue your business needs.
Jake Cohen, VP of Klaviyo’s Shopify partnership, has a recommendation on where you can start—and it’s a good one.
Email marketing features FAQs
What is the importance of integrations with other marketing tools in email marketing?
Integrations with other digital marketing tools empower businesses to create cohesive, data-driven, and highly effective email marketing campaigns. They enable marketers to leverage customer journey data, automate workflows, and deliver personalized email content, ultimately leading to enhanced customer relationships and better results.
What is the role of AI or machine learning features in email marketing platforms?
AI and machine learning features in email marketing platforms empower marketers to leverage data and automation in ways that were not possible before. They enable highly personalized, data-driven campaigns that lead to improved engagement, higher conversions, and, ultimately, better ROI on email marketing efforts.
What features can help me track and analyze the performance of triggered and automated emails?
To track and analyze the performance of triggered and automated emails, email marketing software providers offer several key features:
1. Open Rates
2. Click-Through Rates (CTR)
3. Conversion Rates
4. Bounce Rates
5. Unsubscribe Rates
6. Delivery Rates
7. List Growth and Churn
8. Engagement Over Time
9. Revenue Attribution
10. Device and Location Tracking
11. Click Heatmaps
12. A/B Testing Results
13. Customer Behavior Tracking
14. Time-of-Day Engagement
15. Funnel Conversion Tracking