Building an online business comes with a long list of must-haves. You must have a social media presence, a great website, an online strategy. There are dozens of things that will lend to your success, and the biggest of the must-haves can differ depending on who you ask.

From this side of things, it’s a blend that will get you there, but really—to me (and quite a few other seasoned online entrepreneurs)—email marketing is the pentacle of gots-ta-haves in building a healthy, profitable online business.

We’ve been all about email marketing around these parts. We’ve looked for a new email marketing platform for our own needs in our online business (we decided to go with ConvertKit) and we have been upping our own email marketing game to make sure we’re using what we know like total bosses.

But today I want to share a little quick guide to email marketing so that you can know what the hell we’re talking about. Because I can spout out for days about open rates, opt-ins, and drip content and I know most of you will look at me like a deer in headlights. I know, I’ve seen it before.

So, below you’ll find some helpful definitions for all the basics you need to know to begin rocking out email marketing for your online business:


Included in this quick guide:

  • A/B Testing
  • Auto-responder
  • Broadcast / one-off email / newsletter / campaign / blast
  • Click-through rates
  • Content upgrade
  • Drip content
  • Email course
  • Email marketing
  • Email marketing platform
  • Email / Newsletter list
  • Form conversion rates
  • List segmenting
  • Open rates
  • Opt-in
  • Opt-in incentive
  • Opt-in / Subscribe From
  • Subscriber

A/B Testing

A/B testing is what you do when you want to test the effectiveness of some part of your email marketing strategy. The idea is to create two versions of the same form or email and see which one performs better.

For website forms, you can A/B test the effectiveness of capture emails in your website header vs. your website footer, or one opt-in vs another.

For your actual email campaigns, you can A/B test the effectiveness of a long subject line vs. a shorter one, or one call-to-action in the body of the email vs. another.

A/B testing allows you to test your list’s relationship with your content so that you can optimize how you communicate with the subscribers that you capture.


An auto-responder is the email that gets sent to a subscriber’s inbox as soon as they subscribe. This email could include a link to have them confirm their subscription, thank them for subscribing, and/or include a link to their opt-in incentive.

Broadcast / One-off Email / Newsletter / Campaign / Blast

When you send out an email to your list, you’re sending out a email/broadcast/one-off email. Different email marketing platforms call this something different, but these are the one-time emails that go out to your list.

Email marketing tip: Create a schedule for when you will send your emails. Whether they’re weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly, creating consistency in when you send email develops a rapport with your subscribers that you’re a trustworthy brand.

Click-through rates

Your click-through rate is the number of links clicked in your email campaign relative to the number of people who opened the email. So if your latest email campaign was opened by 100 people, and you had 20 clicks on links in your email, then your click-through rate is 20%. Your goal is to keep your click-through rates high.

Content upgrade

A content upgrade is a worksheet, audio, or other media that you use as a supplementary piece of content on your website—such as a blog post—that is an in-context call for a visitor to opt-in before receiving this extra piece of content.

For example, you write a blog post about bettering your website search engine optimization, and include a link to an additional worksheet that will help the reader brainstorm keywords for their website. The reader clicks the link and is prompted to opt-in to receive the worksheet. They enter their email address and submit, and the worksheet content upgrade is delivered via auto-responder to their inbox.

Drip content

Drip content is a nice little email marketing tactic where you schedule and send your best content out to your subscribers when they sign up. This drip content is predetermined and scheduled up in your email marketing platform, and begins to be sent when your subscriber opts in, pushing them through the content you dictate to introduce them to you, your brand, your product/service, and more. Drip content can last for as little as an email or two, up to weeks or months of pre-written content being sent on a schedule you determine to your new subscribers.

Email Course

If you’re interested in creating some passive income for your business, or using your email marketing platform to create a free opt-in incentive to encourage people to join your list, you can create an email course.

An email course is a series of emails that are automatically delivered to a subscriber after they have signed up for your list, or for a certain segment of your list. You can choose to have them pay for this series—therefore creating a stream of passive income—or this can be a free series that is used as an opt-in incentive.

Email courses use the automatic delivery features of an email marketing platform to make this fully automatic. Not all email marketing platforms have this functionality, and some extra magic may have to take place if you want your course to be purchased by subscribers.

Email marketing

Email marketing is a way of sharing your content, message, offers, and products with your ideal customer. The idea is that people interested in your product or service will subscribe/opt-in to your email list. They expect to receive valuable content delivered via email to their email inbox from your brand / business.

For the purposes of this quick guide, email marketing is a direct form of marketing where a business delivers content directly to a subscriber using email.

Email marketing platform

Your email marketing platform is the system/software you use to manage your email marketing functions.

An email marketing platform will allow you to capture emails with forms that you put on your website, aggregate these addresses into a list, and give you the functionality to easily create and send an email to your entire list or some segment of it that you choose.

All platforms behave a little differently, have different words to describe their functions (like calling an email a broadcast vs a campaign), and have different bells and whistles. Be sure to do your research to find one that will have the right functionality for your needs.

Some of the most popular ones that we’ve found for creative entrepreneurs include:

Are you a mail chimp user? Check out the Chimp Essentials course by Paul Jarvis

Email / Newsletter list

Your email list is your bucket of email addresses that you collect. You can collect these email addresses using forms on your website, or by manually entering them by putting a sign-up sheet at your next live event or asking folks you meet in person.

Email marketing no-no: DO NOT buy or sell your email list. The point of building an email list is to have it filled with authentic subscribers who are truly there for your brand and content. Buying a list will make you list bigger, but not healthier, and selling your list is betraying the trust that a subscriber puts into accepting your content. This is sleazy and no one thinks it’s cute.

Form conversion rates

Your form conversion rate is the number of subscribers who submit a subscribe form relative to the number of people who see the form. This means that if 100 people visit your website homepage and only 20 people subscribe, then you have a 20% form conversion rate. Your goal should be to keep your conversion rates high

Email marketing tip: We love how ConvertKit makes form conversion rates a prominent feature in their platform, allowing us to quickly see how our forms are performing so that we can optimize our site to be as affective as possible.

List segmenting

Many email marketers like to split their list up into different, smaller lists called segments. List segments allow you to target a part of your list more directly.

For example: you’re a stationery designer with a list of 400. Half of your subscribers are soon-to-be-parents ogling over your birth announcements, and the other half are soon-to-be-brides looking for wedding invitations. If you want to send out an email promoting your wedding invitations, you could send to your entire list, but risk losing some subscribers who have no interest in your wedding gear, OR you could only send it to the part of your list that is most interested in your invitations.

Setting up list segmenting requires some forethought in online strategy and carefully setting up forms to send subscribers to the right segments based on placement and messaging, but it’s a great way to cater your marketing specifically to those on your list who are most likely to buy.

Open Rates

The number of people who open your email broadcast relative to the number of people who are on your list is your open rate. This means that if you have an email list of 1,000 subscribers and 500 people open your email, then your open rate for that email was 50%. Your goal is to keep your open rate high.

It’s internet-standard that a 50% open rate or higher is a sign of a healthy list.


When a subscriber submits a form or adds their name to you paper list at a live event, they have opted-in. They have chosen to receive your content in their inbox.

Opt-In Incentive

Often times, you’ll hear an opt-in incentive referred to as an “opt-in.”

In a sentence: “Oh yea, I’ve got a high-converting opt-in that leaves all the subscribers hurting for more!”

An opt-in incentive is something you give them in exchange for their email address. For example, you’re an online boutique and offer subscribers a 15% off discount code to use on their first order. That discount code is an incentive to get people to subscribe to your list.

Opt-ins can be discount codes, PDFs, eBooks, audio, email courses, free coaching sessions, a promise of exclusive content, and more.

Email marketing tip: Make your opt-in incentive valuable and related to your brand. The more related and valuable, the more subscribers you will capture.

Opt-in / Subscribe Form

A form is what you put on your website for potential subscribers to enter their name and email address. This form is connected to your email marketing platform, and will add the subscriber to your list, to segments when needed, and fire off an auto-responder that will land in the new subscriber’s inbox.


A subscriber is someone who has been added to your list. If you have 300 people on your email list, then you have 300 subscribers. These people have subscribed to receive your content.

Email marketing no-no: DO NOT put someone on your list unless you’ve first asked their permission. This is sleazy and no one thinks it’s cute.

This post includes affiliate links, but only for things that we find really and truly rad.

If you liked this post, be sure to check out:

Emily is the co-host of Being Boss Podcast, helping creative entrepreneurs learn how to run their own creative business with the tough love they need to hear to do the work. She also owns Almanac Supply Co., a maker and retail business focused on creating and curating items to help you live closely with nature, based in Chattanooga, Tennessee.