Must-Have Features of Email Marketing – Part 1

Posted on April 28, 2016 • Written by Ben Smith

There are very few (if any) industries that don’t benefit from email marketing. Whether you’re B2B or B2C, a retailer or service provider, email marketing is a powerful targeting tool in any marketer’s box of tricks.

Creating a successful email marketing campaign takes so much more than just writing some copy and hitting send, though. Email design, template, subject line and copy are important, but to be continually and increasingly successful at email marketing, you need these features.

Must-have features for your email marketing software

The path to successful email marketing starts with choosing the right email marketing software for your needs. There is a wide range of options that are tailored to slightly different markets and feature sets. Some are extremely robust and combine email marketing capabilities with broader marketing automation features, others are feature-light built simply for email with few bells and whistles.

Defining the features you need in a software before you start shopping is vital, but there are a few capabilities any marketing professional shouldn’t do without. These must-have email marketing features enable any marketing team – large or small – to target, grow and improve upon their efforts.


When starting an email program, segmenting your contacts into multiple lists might seem more advanced than you need. But as your program matures, the ability to separate contacts into different lists and target certain subsets (or exclude certain subsets) is vital to a robust program.

Sending a monthly newsletter to your entire database isn’t likely to get the conversion rate you’re looking for. You need the ability to send your leads an email that will deep resonate with them and have a greater chance of driving them to action. This is particularly important if you have more than one ideal customer or target prospect. Each of these groups will care about something different and you need to be able to effectively market to them via your email outreach.

Some email programs segment based on tags, but the more advanced and desirable method is the ability to segment by list or data field. You’ll also want to be able to exclude certain contacts based on segmentation. Carefully research the segmentation capabilities of any email program before committing.

Note: All email marketing platforms should automatically exclude any contacts who have unsubscribed from receiving emails, but it’s good practice to put this exclusion logic into your email campaign anyway if it’s an option with your campaign builder.


Email automation is exactly what it sounds like, the ability to automatically send an email without the need to manually hit the send button every time. Automation is particularly helpful for small or busy marketing teams who don’t have time to manually monitor and activate email campaigns.

Email automation is commonly used for:

  • Responding to form-fills: When a lead fills out a contact form or resource download form, a pre-set email is automatically sent with the required information
  • Lead nurturing: Send a cadence of regularly timed emails to keep contacts interested, stay top of mind and move them down the sales funnel
    • Use segmentation to ensure a contact gets relevant information and is only in one nurture track at a time
  • Easy follow up: Set emails can be automatically sent after a certain amount of time to remind customers to reorder or renew, leave a review or any later-date action you’d want a customer to take

Having email automation capabilities allows teams to run a robust email marketing program with a lot less effort and monitoring.

Deep reporting

Sending marketing emails is not like blindly throwing darts at a board. Like any facet of successful digital marketing these days, good email marketing is data-driven. To achieve this level of insight you need an email program that offers deep analytic capabilities.

Many people rely on open rate to gauge the success of their emails, but this metric isn’t enough to really monitor and improve email performance. You need access to these key metrics to determine how well your emails preform.

  • Click Through Rate (CTR): This will tell you how many people actually took the action you wanted after receiving the email.
  • Unsubscribe Rate: If a large percentage of your contacts unsubscribe from one email or are unsubscribing in general then you need to re-evaluate what you’re sending.
    • Each industry has its own average email unsubscribe rate, so it’s important to benchmark your efforts against industry standards.
  • Bounce Rate: This tells you the health of your overall email marketing database. It’s important to monitor bounce rate to ensure you don’t get blacklisted or to identify a potential deliverability problem.
  • Time Send Record: When you’re looking at your engagement metrics it’s helpful to be able to easily tell what day and time the email was sent. This will help you make data-based decisions when identifying ideal times for sending different types of emails.

There are more analytics you can track, but those basic email metrics will generally help guide your program in the right direction.

Why didn’t I include open rate as a meaningful metric? Open rates are notoriously difficult to tie by to actual intentional engagement. When you click past an email and it becomes un-bolded or un-highlighted that counts as the email being “opened” in many cases. The recipient doesn’t have to read or even look at an email for it to be counted as opened. If someone did open your email but didn’t take the desired action, then the email was arguable ineffective. With this in mind, the more advanced metric of Click-to-Open ratio can be helpful. If many recipients opened the email but didn’t take the action then the subject line may be been misleading or the email not very compelling.

Just as important as having access to the right metrics is having someone on your team that knows how to interpret them. That’s covered that in part two: Must-Have Features of Email Marketing – Must-have features for your email marketer.

Testing capability

The point of monitoring email metrics is so you can identify areas of improvement to make your emails more engaging and effective through email testing. Rather than changing elements from one email to the next, you should A/B test a single email.

A/B testing is important because it gives you a baseline to truly determine which version of the email performed better. In this case, you’re sending the same email with a single element (design, subject line, length, time sent, etc.) changed. If you try “testing” by changing elements from one email to the next there’s no baseline or constant – you’ll never know if the design was the reason you got more engagement or if the email was simple more compelling overall because of its entirely different message, content and purpose.

Many email marketing programs have A/B testing capabilities, which make testing much easier. If the software you choose doesn’t have built-in A/B testing there are often manual ways to still run a test, but the process will be much more complicated and time consuming.

You simply cannot improve your email efforts is you’re not testing. Once again, email marketing isn’t about blindly guessing, it’s about making informed decisions and taking purposeful actions to improve email performance.

Bonus feature: Inbox preview

This feature isn’t a must-have, but it certainly is handy! With the growing number of platforms used to read emails, ensuring your email renders correctly, is readable and is easy to interact with on as many devices and platforms as possible is crucial to email marketing success.

An inbox preview essentially “tests” your email before you send it so you can see exactly how it will appear in some of the most popular email platforms. As companies continue to adopt mobile friendly email templates (something that should have been done years ago) it’s important to make sure that your email appears as intend and is easy to engage with across platforms. The “easy” way to build some visual features into email templates will actually not appear correctly or even completely break the template in some popular mobile and web email platforms.

So while having an inbox preview feature isn’t 100% vital, you can see how it would be extremely useful.

Not sure which email marketing software is best for you? Ask the email marketing professionals at Fruition.

Check out Must-Have Features of Email Marketing – Part 2: Must-have features for your email marketer.

Ben Smith

Written by Ben Smith

Ben Smith is a Researcher at Fruition, specializing in Google's Algorithm changes. Ben is a graduate of the University of Denver’s Mathematics program, and he enjoys learning about Google’s search algorithm updates. He's a vital asset of the Fruition team, and he one day hopes to publish a book. In his free time, you can find Ben enjoying the outdoors of Colorado.

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