Batch-and-blast email campaigns have never been a good idea when it comes to creating strong customer relationships. But now that the consumer is king, with unprecedented control over what marketing gets her attention, companies really have to step up their efforts to develop more relevant, well-designed emails that maintain their power from the inbox to the website.

Reggie Brady, president of direct and email marketing consultancy Reggie Brady Marketing Solutions, points to a 2012 MarketingSherpa report that lists segmentation/targeting, landing pages, subject lines, calls-to-action, and personalization as the most effective testing techniques for driving program performance. Of these, she advises marketers spend time on segmentation/targeting, as it will have greater impact on relevance.

And while subject lines hold a place in any testing program, email marketing strategist Jeanne Jennings cautions against focusing too much on this element. “This is the ‘easy’ way to test,” she says, “but it’s unlikely to result in a big change in your conversion rate because the subject line is so far from the ‘buy now’ button. Think about the conversion funnel—a 2% boost on conversions from your landing page will yield much better results than a 2% lift in your open rate.”

Let’s a look at some proven tactics for improving your email campaigns’ conversion rates:

Tip 1. Look at your web analytics.

Jennings likes to begin the improvement process by optimizing landing pages and shopping cart flow. Web analytics, she explains, shows you where visitors are moving out of the purchase path and which, if any, elements help drive the sale. “I had a client recently find that people who viewed a product video were much more likely to buy, so we made it a more prominent element on the landing page,” she says.

Tip #2. Boost your click-through rate.

Given how many people use a horizontal preview pane to view their email, Jennings advises marketers to pay close attention to what goes in this space in order to drive clickthroughs.

Some of the elements that help recipients get the key message directly in the preview window are benefit-oriented headlines; personalization (Dear <First Name>); plus a call-to-action and link to buy. As for what to avoid, Jennings says not to fill your preview pane with images that won’t be seen if images are blocked by the browser.

Tip #3. Test to find the right balance of information between email and website.

Marketers have to find the delicate balance that’s right for them, says Brady, in terms of how much information is in the email and how much is on the website. Email copy has to provide enough text to pique the reader’s interest, perhaps also including at least one strong benefit. For promotional emails, she reminds, the primary mission is to get someone to click.

Tip #4. Maintain message consistency from the email to the website.

The most straightforward way to grow your email conversion rate is to repeat the email’s primary message or offer on the website landing page and then throughout the visitor’s clickpath says Brett Bair, Monetate’s Senior Director, Strategic Services. Marketers can do this with a simple line of text, a banner, or even a more dramatic landing page treatment of the key message (as demonstrated in this campaign from American Eagle; email at right, and landing page below).

Regardless of the creative approach employed, the goal of the anchor message is to help visitors get back to the promotion that drove them to the website in the first place. So, for example, if a consumer clicked through on an email that offered a 20% discount on any items in a new product line, then the consistency campaign should remind the shopper about this deal when she fills her cart with products that don’t qualify for the promotion. Or, if she’s browsing through different product categories, on-page text or a banner should continually promote the deal from the email and take her back to the details.

Discount offers aren’t the only types of promotions that benefit from email-website consistency. Bair says marketers have used this technique for seasonal messaging and segmentation campaigns. By using dynamic merchandising technology, marketers can create customized landing pages that feature whatever products or messaging is relevant to each email segment.

And on the subject of dynamic merchandising, a more advanced consistency technique is to single out items that are part of the email promotion on product detail and category pages with badges that read “featured in email,” making it even easier for consumers to find the product that got them to click through from the email

“With this tactic, the top line is making the message consistent between the email and website,” says Bair. “The next level is being able to target on your website the way you do in your email and do it easily.”

Tip #5. Make sure your email is mobile-frendly.

More people are reading their emails on a mobile device these days. According to Brady, a December 2011 Return Path report, shared that 23% read email on their mobile device, which is up from 16% last May. “In many cases, she laments, “the mobile email experience is not pretty at all. Sometimes images don’t render; sometimes the email is not re-sized, so only the left side of the email displays; and sometimes it’s near impossible for someone to click on a link because there are other links nearby.”

Since click-through rates are lower for emails read on a mobile device, Brady explains that conversion rates can be lifted by marketers first optimizing their email design to work well for the mobile environment. She advises keeping the width of emails as close as possible to 500 pixels. Headlines should be in 22 pixels, and body copy should be a minimum of 14 pixels. Finally, she recommends leaving a lot of cell padding around any call-to-action button, so the user’s finger can easily click on the link.