Email marketing is one of the most popular marketing tools for real estate agents — and perhaps one of the least understood.

I see so many complaints about agents who send messages indiscriminately or whose every email is just some variation on the tired theme of “I’m the best agent in my area! Use me!”

My role includes managing email marketing, and — thanks to some great mentoring, plenty of research and a bit of trial and error — I’ve been able to build a relatively successful program. The principles I follow boil down to what I like to call The 10 Commandments of Email Marketing. Here are commandments one through five.

1. Thou shalt choose wisely.

Building a successful email marketing program starts with your choice of an email service provider (ESP). Be willing to pay something for ROI-boosting features such as lead capture, mobile-first formatting, grouping/segmenting capabilities, insightful analytics and good customer support. And always, always ask about delivery rates — emails do you no good unless they reach your audience’s inbox. A good ESP will have a delivery rate of at least 95 percent. If a provider won’t disclose their delivery rate, run the other way.

2. Thou shalt obtain opt-in.

American anti-spam laws do not require opt-in, but it’s just good practice. Send marketing emails indiscriminately, and people are likely to mark them as spam — which can get you blacklisted by your ESP. A good rule of thumb is to send only to people who have done business with you in the past 18 months or who have knowingly signed up for a marketing list.

If you want to get more conscientious, send a confirmation email to verify that there’s a willing recipient behind any addresses you’ve collected. This method is the “double opt-in,” and it’s known as the holy grail of email marketing because it guarantees that you’re sending to a receptive audience.

3. Thou shalt segment thy list.

Shotgun emailing doesn’t work, plain and simple. People will just delete emails that contain irrelevant information — and then not open anything from you in the future. If you want to build goodwill with your audience — indeed, if you even want to maintain an audience — segment your list into smaller groups so you can send people information based on criteria such as geography, buying/selling status, etc. Trust me: Your open rates will thank you.

4. Thou shalt provide quality, meaningful content.

Email marketing, like all content marketing, is not for blatant self-promotion. It’s a chance to establish yourself as a trusted expert by providing readers with helpful information they can use. A good rule of thumb is the 80:20 principle. Your emails should be at least 80 percent useful content and no more than 20 percent self-promotion.

The quality of your content is also important. Make sure articles are short, well-written, accurate and timely. Occasional candid photos are OK, but you should professionally produce any listing photos or videos. Email marketing is a time to put your best foot forward. Sloppy content will make you look like an amateur.

5. Thou shalt be visual.

Compelling visuals put you ahead of the pack and hold recipients’ attention. Your visual presence starts with a template design. A good email marketing service will offer plenty of free options; choose something clean and modern that complements your logo. Also include a prominent photo or video thumbnail “above the fold,” the area recipients can see without scrolling. This maneuver will encourage recipients to read the entire email or click through to your website. Video boosts click-thrus by up to 300 percent and reduces opt-outs by about 75 percent, in particular.

That should give you enough to get started. Try some new things, and come back next week for Part 2.

Kathryn Royster is marketing communications coordinator for HouseLens, the nation’s largest provider of video marketing solutions for the real estate industry. She has also served as a contributor to, Business Climate, and numerous community and economic development magazines nationwide. Kathryn’s personal real estate passion is old houses: living in them, renovating them and advocating for their preservation.

Email Kathryn Royster.

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