Archive for the 'Email Marketing' Category

Less Can Really Be More with Email Frequency

Monday, February 16th, 2009

Businesses are always searching for ways to increase revenue, especially in difficult economic times like these.  Often, the suggestion is simiply do more of what is already generating profits.  Email marketing is especially susceptible to this rationale because it is relatively easy and inexpensive to implement compared to other options (e.g. direct mail).  For example, if one email campaign per month generates $50,000 then two campaigns will net $100,000.

However, not only can increasing the frequency of your email campaigns not deliver the expected revenue, but it can result in an increase in unsubsriptions and abuse complaints and a decrease in engagement, especially if you can’t provide relevant content or offers.

In one of his takeways from the 2009 Email Evolution Conference, Chad White recounted the experience of REI who performed a test in which they suppressed emails to non-clickers for 4 weeks, after which they sent them an email promoting REI’s anniversary sale. While the control group was sent several more emails over that 4-week period, the suppressed group (who only received the anniversary sale email) outperformed the control group by 4%.

Does that mean that everyone should reduce the frequency of their email marketing campaigns?  Of course not.  However, it is a reminder that the days of taking a ‘one-size-fits-all’ and one email blast approach to the entire house list should be behind us.  In REI’s case, the company may have identified a group of subscribers who had begun ignoring their emails because they received too many and sending fewer emails (at a lower cost) could achieve as good or better results.

Less can really be more – all it takes is a test (or a few of them) to find out.

Considering Email Subject Line Length

Thursday, January 15th, 2009

When I was in high school, our teacher gave us an assignment to write a speech on a single 3×5 note card.  Even writing real small, it forced us to focus on the most important content and think about each and every word.  A recent study by Epsilon on subject lines reminds us to do the same with email copy.

Epsilon recently released the results of a study on subject line length which supports the generally held notion that shorter subject lines perform better (although the correlation may not be as strong as believed).  Shorter subject lines often do better for technical reasons as many email clients show fewer than 50 characters.  According to Epsilon, 57% of U.S. email recipients see only the first 38 to 47 characters of a subject line when making the decision to open an email.

However, as the Epsilon report notes, the focus on the subject line length itself can camouflage two critical factors for success:  word choice and word placement.  Given the variety of email clients and continued growth of people reading email on mobile devices, the number of characters of a subject line that is visible could be 25 characters or 65.  That is why it is key to place the most important part of your message at the beginning of the subject line and carefully consider each and every word.

Now that doesn’t mean you should never use longer subject lines.  There are many situations in which a longer subject line is warranted and will perform better (the report provides an example).  As such, it is important to continually test elements like placement  (e.g. Ends Today: 10% Off vs. 10% Off Through Friday), word selection (e.g. Ends Today vs. Last Chance), inclusion of your brand, and mentioning specific savings instead of a more general reference (10% off vs. Sale).

Unsubscribes Don’t Tell the Whole Story

Thursday, December 18th, 2008

At the most recent Email Insider Summit, a panel of moms talked about how likely they are to just delete unwanted emails instead of reporting them as spam. This is relevant to email marketers because we can often look at statistics like unsubscribe rates and conclude that a low unsubscribe percentage indicates that there aren’t any issues with unwanted email.  However, as the panel indicated and others find, unsubscribing may not be the most likely action for someone who doesn’t want to receive emails anymore.  For example, JupiterResearch reports that 26% of consumers unsubscribe using the spam button.

While the more immediate danger is someone reporting your email as spam, which will negatively impact your ability to reach the inbox (many email providers make it the number one factoring in determining whether an email goes to the junk folder), having a subscriber continually deleting your emails isn’t good either.  At the point that someone starts blindly deleting your emails, the subscriber has become detached from your brand and you are not only wasting money sending to those subscribers, but still considering those type of subscribers as part of your core list could skew results and impact your ability to optimize your emails.

As a reminder, here are some of the best practices to avoid subscribers hitting the spam button or just deleting your emails without even reading them:

  1. Use and adhere to a good opt-in process.  Sending to subscribers who really don’t want your email is an invitation to be reported as a spammer.
  2. Ensure your content is relevant.  For each email sent, you should be able clearly identify what value it provides to the recipient.  Look at alternatives to the mass-blast approach.  Sending the same email to every one of your subscribers makes it more difficult to be relevant.  If you are doing it already, looking at using dynamic content, segmenting, triggered emails, multiple lists, etc.
  3. Practice good list hygiene.  Don’t continue to send to subscribers who have disengaged.  If someone hasn’t opened or clicked on one of your emails in a long time (the actual period depends on a number of factors), remove them from your active list and consider some type of re-engagement program to see if you can recover them.
  4. Make it easy to unsubscribe.  I know the tendency for some marketers is to make it difficult for someone to remove themselves from a list, but that type of approach will only cause problems as at some point, subscribers will start tagging your email as spam.
  5. Don’t look at unsubscribes as the only measure of disengagement.  Realize that a decrease in opens and clicks could be the result of people simply just deleting your emails or marking your emails as spam.  Constantly be assessing whether you are providing something of value that will allow you to continue to keep your audience engaged.

Email Delivery to the Inbox

Saturday, July 26th, 2008

While metrics are an invaluable marketing tool, they also can provide a false sense of comfort.  As an example, your email marketing delivery rate may not be telling you exactly what you need to know.

Email deliverability is obviously critical – if someone doesn’t get your email marketing message, they can’t read it and act upon it.  However, the standard ‘deliverability rate’ provided by many email service providers doesn’t tell you the full story. Often, the number of emails delivered that is reported only reflects those messages not rejected by an ISP.  The deliverability rate may only be reflecting issues such an inbox being full or an email address no longer being valid; it doesn’t tell you how many emails actually make it to your subscribers’ inbox. 

After the ISP (or corporate email server) accepts the email, it may still determine that the message is spam and place it in a junk or spam folder.  In a recent ISP email deliverability study (pdf), Lyris found that Yahoo sends about 26% of messages to the junk folder and Gmail and Hotmail send about 18% each.

You need to make sure you understand whether your email service provider reports on deliverability to the inbox.  If not, you have a couple of options.  One approach is to sign-up for email accounts with major providers (e.g. Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, GMail, etc.) or using existing personal accounts and then send your campaigns to those ‘seed email addresses’ in addition to your regular subscription list and monitor whether the email sent to the seed addresses are blocked, sent to the junk folder or make it to the inbox.  Another approach, which I recommend, is to use a service like, Return Path, or Habeas to track deliverability to the inbox.  These services, which vary in cost and functionality, track and report deliverability to the inbox.  DeliveryMonitor, for example, is very inexpensive but still provides results across a large number of ISPs.

If you haven’t checked your inbox deliverability recently, now is the time.

New CAN-SPAM Rule Provisions

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

The FTC has approved four new rule provisions to the CAN-SPAM act, which created standards for sending commercial email in 2003.  From the FTC press release, the four issues addressed are:

  1. an e-mail recipient cannot be required to pay a fee, provide information other than his or her e-mail address and opt-out preferences, or take any steps other than sending a reply e-mail message or visiting a single Internet Web page to opt out of receiving future e-mail from a sender;
  2. the definition of “sender” was modified to make it easier to determine which of multiple parties advertising in a single e-mail message is responsible for complying with the Act’s opt-out requirements;
  3. a “sender” of commercial e-mail can include an accurately-registered post office box or private mailbox established under United States Postal Service regulations to satisfy the Act’s requirement that a commercial e-mail display a “valid physical postal address”; and
  4. a definition of the term “person” was added to clarify that CAN-SPAM’s obligations are not limited to natural persons.

The full text (PDF, 312KB) provides a more detailed explanation of each of the new rules and some additional information including clarification on how ‘Forward To a Friend’ emails should be classified. 

For most marketers, these new provisions won’t have a practical impact on their email programs. 

The one exception might be the first item, which addresses the opt-out process.  An important best practice has been to make the unsubscribe process simple and straightforward, so I don’t except that a lot of marketers will need to change anything.  However, given the continuing importance of the CAN-SPAM act, everyone should review the new provisions to determine what, if any, effect it has on your email marketing programs.

Email Metrics Report – Subject Lines and Opens

Thursday, November 1st, 2007

Recently, Mailer Mailer released their 1st Half of 2007 Email Metrics Report.  While we need to continually test what works best in our particular situation and not rely solely on industry averages, the report did contain some interesting information that help serve as best practices. For example,

  • Subject lines with 35 or few characters outperformed longer subject lines by about 25%.  While there are merits to longer copy on web pages or even in email messages themselves, the consensus continues to be that shorter subject lines improve results.  Given the way that virtually all email programs display messages, people generally use the ‘From’ address and the subject line to evaluate which emails to delete, read next, etc.  Using 35 characters as a limit forces us to communicate why the email is relevant in a very concise manner.
  • While the vast majority of opens occur within the first 24 hours of a camping being launched, emails continue to be opened months after they were originally sent.  Beyond making sure that you don’t delete pages or images relating to older campaigns, you should also consider updating pages that have expired offers with updated specials or content that is no longer relevant with new information.

Know Thy Consumer

Thursday, August 9th, 2007

If you have gone through a web redesign in the last couple of years, you are probably familiar with user personas.  Fortunately, most interactive agencies have integrated persona development into their standard design process.  In case you haven’t worked with user personas before, they are usually written descriptions of fictional characters who represent key target audiences.  Personas bring ‘users to life’ by communicating motivations, needs, objectives, and expectations that drive their online behavior.

Personas provide extremely useful insights and work like a compass to help guide your marketing efforts.   They need to part of your marketing planning for a number of reasons:

  1. The process of developing personas should reinforce that neither you nor anyone in your company is your target consumer.  Even if you are a user of your organization’s product or service, working at your company, especially if you are a marketer, creates biases that make you different.
  2. Creating personas help you think of your consumers in terms of needs, wants, and motivations, instead of gender, age, and household income.  Personas create a much richer picture of your consumer than any demographic could.  To me, knowing that someone looks at the purchase of a high-end boat as a status symbol is much more useful than knowing that the average household income of yacht purchasers is $10 million (I made-up number – all I know is that I am not part of that target audience).
  3. Through persona development, you segment your target audience into groups that allow you customize your marketing and tailor your offerings in a way that you couldn’t if you focused only on the notion of a single, average user.  For example, Wal-Mart has identified a group of consumers who will probably never buy clothes from its stores but who are excellent targets for electronics.  Email campaigns that focus specifically on DVD players, plasma TVs, mp3 players, etc. are going to be much more effective in attracting that group than general, ‘Sunday Circular’ types of email blasts.

Know thy consumer is one of the commandments of marketing and personas are a great tool in helping you refining your understanding of key target consumers. If you haven’t created personas, you should.  If you have created personas, make sure that you are using your personas for all of your online marketing efforts, including email campaigns, banner advertising, and search marketing. 

The following are some resources on developing personas:


Tracking Engagement In Your Email Campaigns

Tuesday, July 17th, 2007

When measuring the success of email marketing campaigns, the metrics most often tracked are open and click-thru rates. While those are noteworthy statistics, unique clicks to unique opens which I call the Engagement Rate is a very important, yet often over-looked measure of the overall success of a campaign. 

Most companies calculate click-thru rates as the number of clicks/number of emails delivered (clicks either being total or unique).  What the click-through rate doesn’t provide insight to is the percentage of overall readers who find your email useful or relevant. 

The click-thru rate doesn’t distinguish between a scenario in which you have 10 subscribers (an anemic number for a list but it makes the math a lot easier) and 1 user clicks on 10 links in an email and 9 subscribers open the email but do nothing and a situation in which all 10 subscribers each click on a single link.  In both cases, the number of clicks is 10 and the number of opens is 10; however, I would argue that in the later scenario, you have a higher level of engagement with your readership because each of your subscribers each found something in your email of relevance.

That doesn’t mean that traditional click-thru rates aren’t important, but the tracking the engagement rate will help you make sure that you are providing value to as many of your subscribers as possible.  If your engagement rate is low or declining, it may be that you campaigns are too general and you should offer multiple, more targeted emails or try segmenting your audience and include more specific content. 

In any case, the engagement rate provides another way to look at how your e-mail campaigns are performing and that additional insight will help you make them even more effective.