January 26, 2016

5 Best Practices for Using Email Merge Fields

Reading time about 5 min
email merge fields blog post preview

Guest post by Mike Bird

Like any great digital marketer, you send out a lot of emails to your customers and you personalize them whenever possible. By adding the customer’s name to the subject line or in the body of the text, you have the potential to experience a 600% lift your transaction rates and revenues for each email you send out (according to a 2013 study from Experian).

Merge fields make personalization possible. In this article, we’ll tackle the five best practices for using merge fields and help you step up your email marketing strategy.

1. Create email templates

Email templates will keep your merge fields intact, so won’t have to redo your merge fields for every campaign. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when setting up email templates:

  • Keep the content simple. Template emails are mainly for broad, general messages, such as appointment reminders, did-you-forget-something-in-your-cart reminders and general welcome emails. These are quick messages just to blast out to contacts. If you have to personalize it too much, just create a new template from scratch.
  • Don’t overuse the same merge fields. The contact’s name doesn’t need to be in every paragraph. Use merge fields when it’s relevant.
  • Always revise before sending. Even with a template, there could be a lurking typo. Always review these emails just in case.

Remember, templates are just templates. You still need to assign a mailing list and make sure that all the merge fields are in the correct place before you send out the emails. (Alternatively, you can use templates with your trigger marketing or transactional emails to automate recurring emails.)

2. Set up default content

Let’s say you send out a mass email to a group of contacts, but one of those contacts did not supply a name. When the email gets to this person’s inbox, the merge field is still in the subject line and in the greeting. You want to avoid doing this at all costs, so when you know you have some holes of information in your database (missing names, company sizes, titles, etc.), it’s important to include at least one default field.

Defaults serve as back-up answers that your emails can use when your database does not have certain pieces of information for each customer. Instead of leaving the field merge code or having an odd blank space, the default will take its place with a generic alternative. For example, you might use “valued customer” as substitutions for a name.

3. Test different email merge fields

You can use merge fields for all different types of information available in your database. With these different types, you can create highly personal emails that truly speak to the recipient’s experience.

You know that name merge fields are great for personalization, but there are a number of other merges that you might not be using yet. Check out these less-used but nevertheless important field merges and start thinking about how you can use them in your own emails.

  • Date: For time-sensitive information, date merge fields will automatically pull dates from your database. If you’re sending out thank-you emails to subscribers who have been receiving your emails for one year, then you might use the date merge to automatically put in their subscription date. This can also work if you send out birthday greetings or special offers.
  • Geographical location: This field is best used if location is a big factor for your business. For example, a property development company might notify people in a particular area that a new development is going up in a nearby location.
  • Appointment times: You might send appointment email reminders every day. Use the appointment time merge field to automatically insert each recipient’s individual time.
  • Sales rep information: If your contacts already have sales representatives assigned to them, then including the sale representative’s name and contact information gives receivers all the information they need to contact your company.
  • Discount group: If you’re running multiple promotions at once, you can easily display certain offers to your different recipients based on what their discount group is in your database. If some qualify for a 10 percent discount and another group qualifies for 20 percent off, then your merge field will automatically put in the correct discounts.

Experiment with all types of merge fields and see which ones work best for your audience.

4. Make your merge field names unique

Chances are, you will have a lot of different merges to use. If you’re not careful about how you label each merge, you could end up confusing yourself and using the wrong values in emails.

The best way to stop yourself from mixing up your fields is to use the same names of your database fields in your merge fields. (Thankfully, Sendinblue does this by default.) Avoid using abbreviations for your merge fields when possible. Though it may seem time consuming to spell out longer field names, they’re better in the long run.

5. Check (and re-check) your merges

There’s nothing worse than sending out an email with a typo in it. A missing apostrophe or misspelled word can be overlooked, but misspelled merge fields will stand out like sore thumbs. When merge fields are spelled incorrectly, they won’t be replaced with the person’s name. Instead, they’ll just show up as code.

This is a dead give away that a contact received a mass email. While some recipients won’t care, it can be a turn-off for many others. You want your customers to always feel appreciated, as if they’re you’re number one priority.

Most merge fields are generated by your email system, but if you’re moving them around and cutting and pasting them, there’s a chance you might leave behind a dash or any other small symbol.

Before hitting the send button, take a minute and look over your merge fields. Almost all email systems use a different formatting style for their merge fields. Pay attention to how your email system creates these merges and learn to do them correctly. You’ll be able to fix your own mistakes and notice when a merge is missing a hashtag or dash.

The best way to check not only the merge fields, but every aspect of an email you’re sending out is to perform a test. If your merge fields are incorrect, you’ll be able to spot them in the test email.

Using Sendinblue? Here are some resources to implement Mike’s best practices: 

Mike Bird is a co-founder of digital marketing agency, Social Garden. Social Garden specializes in data-driven lead generation & marketing automation to grow companies’ revenue in the finance, property and education verticals in Australia.

Don’t have a free marketing automation account yet? Sign up today.

Ready to find your marketing zen?

Take the stress out of your work day with a solution that’s built for you!

Get started free