Email is a critical marketing tool. Research firm Statistica reports that, in 2020, about 306 billion emails were sent and received every day worldwide, and this figure is projected to increase to more than 376 billion daily emails within the next few years.

That should not surprise anyone running a small business. According to recent research from Campaign Monitor, an email marketing platform, 64% of small businesses use email marketing to reach customers.

Unfortunately, there is still a great deal of confusion among small-businesses owners about how to best deploy email marketing.

For starters, you don’t want to send hundreds or thousands of emails from your company’s mail server unless you enjoy getting into a fight with your internet service provider. That’s why it’s always best to subscribe to a bulk email service such as Constant Contact, Mailchimp, AWeber, or Emma. Besides providing templates and assistance for sending out email campaigns, the primary job of these services is to make sure that your email gets delivered.

The good ones will have best practices and actively enforce opt-in and data rules to ensure that you are not sending spam or messages to people who don’t want to hear from you. Because of these controls, the major mail providers such as Gmail, which recognizes that delivery is coming from a vetted source, are less inclined to block your messages or send them to spam.

What about content? The rule of thumb is that it should be short and mostly non-promotional. That’s because no one wants to receive advertisements. Your community will want information that will help. This information can be about your products but also include thought leadership, insights, and advice.

“If your email marketing is all about ‘buy my stuff, buy my stuff, buy my stuff,’ then you’re not providing any kind of value,” says Bonny Clayton, a Media-based web design and marketing specialist. “Keep doing that and your email list is going to die.”

Clayton also recommends that if you’re sharing a blog or information about a new product, “don’t give them the whole kit and caboodle in the email. Whet their appetite, pique their interest in the email, and then say, learn more by having a big juicy button for clicking.”

Your subject line is also critical. An email that says “newsletter from my company” isn’t exactly enticing, especially in these days of overwhelming content. Subject lines should be eye-catching without being misleading, such as “here are three ways to fix this problem” or “if you’re doing this, you could be making a mistake.”

Effective email campaigns need good metrics, which are usually provided by your email marketing service. Many experts say not to worry about how many people “open” your email because most of the major email software systems allow users to view a message before opening it, and that often counts as being “opened.”

The two key metrics you want to follow are clicks and bounces. When emails get bounced, it means they didn’t reach their intended recipient, and that should be investigated. When recipients click on the links you provide to read more of an article or get more information from an ad, that shows interest. You want to find out from your email services’ reporting functionality who clicked and where they clicked to so you can follow up. As a benchmark, Constant Contact reports that, across all industries, the average click-through rate is 11.3%, and the bounce rate is 9.4%.

“You always want to engage the most engaged people,” says Katie Hagan, a small-business marketing consultant who also works at Results Repeat, a digital marketing firm based in Media. “If they’re clicking through, you’re going to want to cater to them more, because those are the people that are most likely to purchase at the end of the day.”

What about the right time to send an email? I like to tell clients between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Philadelphia time, but Hagan and Clayton say there’s no one answer to this question.

“I recommend testing,” says Hagan. “If you’re seeing that the 11 a.m. time of day is not working for your email audience, then adjust.” And while Hagan says that starting with a once-a-month schedule is best, the time and frequency will likely change as you learn more about your audience.

On the other hand, Clayton says that it may be OK to send emails as often as twice a month, or even more. “It really depends on your industry,” she says. “There are some industries that are growing and changing, and there are so many things that are going on that you could feasibly email your list once a week.”

The content, timing, and frequency of your emails are important, but in the end, a strong email marketing effort is all about one thing: your data. The companies that do the best job with email campaigns have spreadsheets or customer relationship management (CRM) systems that segment recipients by all sorts of factors such as purchase history and services provided to gender, region, or age. They have multiple lists used for multiple email campaigns in order to deliver the right message. It will also help you decide how often to send emails to a specific list as some may want to hear from you more frequently than others.

Running a successful email campaign requires an investment, which is why both Hagan and Clayton say you can’t do it on your own. Your emails not only need to be designed and written clearly but also sent on a regular schedule and then tested for results. Doing this requires an enormous amount of effort and attention.

“I would always try to outsource to either a freelancer or, if you have a smaller team, someone that is open to learning about marketing,” says Hagan.

Gene Marks is a certified public accountant and the owner of the Marks Group, a technology and financial management consulting firm in Bala Cynwyd.