Send Smarter: 6 Email Lessons for Small Business Owners

Sara Kappler
4 min readJul 6, 2020

Email can seem straightforward at first. But once you start digging into topics like email deliverability and email metrics, it’s actually very complex. Sending out regular emails doesn’t mean you’re “doing email” well, or using it strategically.

For example, an issue like low email open rates has many contributing factors and far-reaching impacts. If your emails aren’t getting through to your intended recipients, you are losing out on effectiveness and revenue. At its core, it’s a communication issue.

Fortunately, email issues can be fixed. Almost every small business we meet has a few areas of email that are worth improving because it’s a quick way to add value.

Here are a few lessons in email, so you can start sending smarter and get the most out of your email sending tool — whether it’s an email marketing platform, a marketing automation tool, an eCommerce marketing tool, or even your CRM.

Lesson 1: Metrics can be misleading.

Have you ever heard someone say “25% is a great open rate!” and wondered why?

Email open tracking works through picture loading, and every ESP (Email Service Provider like Gmail, Yahoo, Outlook) will have a different way of managing defaults for their clients.

Think of those messages you see and subtle prompts to “always display images from this sender?” Honestly, I wish we’d rename this because it’s not really measuring whether an email gets opened. A 25% open rate means 25% of emails displayed images (or were clicked, most platforms add this in to the metric). It doesn’t reflect if the recipient opened it, read it, but didn’t load images or click on links.

Open rate is not a great metric for reach, and different software will have different nuances in how they measure these metrics. Understanding the metrics you want to keep an eye on will depend on your business, your software, and your audience, and it’s a great starting point for sending smarter.

Lesson 2: You can improve your numbers by verifying your domain.

With most software that has emailing capabilities, there’s a way to tell it to send emails on your behalf, so it looks like it’s coming straight from your email address. Most people know about this.

What most don’t know is there’s a way to take that one step further, by going back to your email domain, and basically vouching for the software that you’ve just allowed to send emails as you.

It’s the difference between an email:


or from via

By verifying or authenticating your domain, you’re less likely to get marked as SPAM and also more likely to land in actual Inboxes rather than Promotions or Updates tabs.

Lesson 3: You can improve your numbers without being a tech expert.

Do you ever skim emails from the preview text? Do you ever skim an email’s preview text and send it straight to archive or delete because it’s not relevant or doesn’t catch your interest?

Preview text can help you get your emails opened. Adding alt text to your images can compel your readers to load images. But let’s not lose sight of the goal here, writing engaging content and providing value in every email is what will drive conversion. A copywriter can help, but you don’t need to be an expert to improve your messaging and metrics.

Lesson 4: Email is part of a larger conversation on data privacy.

Do you have a privacy policy on your website? Are you asking for permission to email your list and do you make it easy to unsubscribe in every email? Is your email marketing system tracking web visits from email links? Do you understand what GDPR is and is your messaging compliant?

If you’re emailing a list, you have a responsibility to be compliant — and you don’t have to be a legal expert here to accomplish this. Understanding what data you’re capturing from your email marketing system is the first step, and oftentimes a slight adaptation to your privacy policy and wording on signup forms is all it takes to send smarter.

Lesson 5: Bigger is not always better.

Everyone wants a bigger list, I know, I know, some marketing guru told you to build one. And sure, a large email list is a great business achievement and business asset if done right.

However, you know what’s not being talked about? The time, money, and effort it takes to clean out lists that are not engaged. Maybe you’ve had a list since you started your business five years ago, and now half of those email addresses are dead and never interacting with your content.

If the folks on your list aren’t engaging with your content, guess what, they’re bringing your numbers down. Everytime someone’s email bounces or marks you as spam, it’s telling their ESP “this sender is shady”. In turn, the ESP lets fewer email through their filters. Unengaged audiences make it harder for you reach everyone, even those who would want to engage with your content — if only they could see it.

So don’t sweat it if your list is small. And don’t do desperate things like purchase lists or remove double Opt-in to try to make your lists bigger. Monitor engagement and run a re-engagement campaign if your list needs a clean out. Better yet, set your re-engagement campaign on autopilot so you have a self-cleaning list.

Lesson 6: Your data has the answer

Email seems simple, but let’s face it, it’s anything but straightforward. There are literally hundreds of whitepapers and blog posts that will tell you when to send, what to send, how often to send, which software to use, which software not to use, and on and on.

I’ll end with one final tip: your own data will always be more insightful than an industry benchmark. If you’ve been running email campaigns for years, chances are — your data has the answer.



Sara Kappler

I run a CRM-Driven marketing agency. Mom of three. Flexible work advocate. Data nerd. Overachiever.