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Email Marketing, Part III: The Secrets to Achieving Better Results

In the final installment of this email marketing series, content marketing strategist Barry Feldman shares secrets for measuring and increasing email campaign success.

If you don’t perpetually improve your digital marketing, you really don’t understand digital marketing. Everything’s measurable. So everything can be analyzed and refined, including of course, your email marketing.

Part one of our email marketing series discussed how to create email and grow your subscriber lists. Part two focused on getting readers to open and respond to your emails.

In this final installment, we’ll examine how to continuously improve your email marketing and ROI.

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It starts with metrics

Email results are easy to measure. By assessing the performance of your email campaigns or individual sends, you can establish benchmarks and apply lessons learned from your measurements to refine and improve your efforts.

Let’s look at five essential email metrics:

  • Bounce rate. The percentage of emails you sent but were not received is called bounce rate. The “hard bounces” your analytics report indicate the email was sent to a bad address. No one’s home. You need to remove these email addresses from your list. If you get a bounce rate of 1 percent or more each time you send an email, you’ll need to look at your opt–in process because it’s allowing for bogus emails.
  • Click-through rate (CTR). This is your most important metric. CTRs reflect how relevant and compelling your email is, or isn’t. Don’t lose sight of your CTR. Aim to draw conclusions regarding why some emails get higher or lower CTRs than your averages.
  • Conversion rate. Conversion indicates the email recipient performed a desired action such as filling out a form or buying a product. Measuring conversion requires integrating your email platform with your web analytics. For many email marketers, this metric may be overkill, but if your aim to sell product from your email, you should take conversion rate seriously.

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Here’s a look at one of the reports I have access to with my service, which indicates all kinds of metrics to help assess effectiveness.

  • Open rate. Your open rate is largely an indicator of the success of your subject line, so it’s always a viable metric. That said, the percentage of recipients who open your email tends to be estimated, so it’s best to factor it mostly as a means of comparison among your emails.
  • Unsubscribes. A small percentage of recipients will unsubscribe. Don’t freak about it. Your goal is to send email to those that actually want it. Parting ways with those who don’t is not a bad thing. However, if you see a spike in your unsubscribe rate, it suggests there is an issue worthy of consideration. Are you sending email more often than subscribers want? Perhaps you’re not meeting the expectations of your subscribers. It could be your subject lines are making promises your emails don’t keep.

Test, refine and get better results

You’ll gain valuable insights about your prospects’ behavior by testing your email, which will enable you to perpetually improve results. And it’s generally easy to test your email in a variety of ways.

Subject line tests

Most email marketing services offer features to facilitate simple A/B tests (often called “split tests”). I strongly recommend you insist your email service provider offers an A/B testing feature for subject lines. It’s a valuable feature that will help you improve results.

I chose Campaign Monitor as my service provider mostly because their templates looked sharp, but I’ve remained a customer for years partially because they offer a great tool for testing. (I’ve also found their support and advice to be top-notch).

Every time I create an email, I write two subject lines that are pitted against each other in a preliminary send to a portion of my list. I have the option to select the winning line based on (1) open rates, (2) click-through rates and (3) clicks to a specific page. I favor #2 because a click-through to my site is generally the objective I deem to be most important.

Timing

With subscribers in different businesses and locations around the world, you’re likely to conclude there’s no perfect time for sending the same email to everyone on your list. Still, testing time-of-day delivery for a few emails is likely to be a worthwhile exercise, which will help determine the time of day that provides higher open rates. With the U.S. as my primary market, I arrived at the conclusion that early work hours in the PST time zone (mid-day in EST) is a smart play.

Day of the week

Experiment with the day or days you send emails as well. You may find a significant difference in response rates when you compare early, mid, late-week and weekend deliveries. And you may be surprised at the results you get on weekends.

Copy

Clearly, the written content of your email will have a lot to do with your success. So if you have different ideas about what to write, split-testing versions of the copy is another practical exercise to help you determine which style or message resonates best.

Structure and layout

While it may be distracting to mess around with your layouts over the long-haul, in the early going, testing variations in how your email is laid-out could be useful. Consider testing what type of information you presented and where it lands on the page.

For instance, will a one-column stack work best? Does a sidebar help? Should every story feature an image? You could try the tiled approach that’s grown popular. You might even send text-based emails for certain applications.

Design

The obvious way to determine which visual styles inspire clicks is to test a few. Consider testing masthead designs, number of columns, lengths, images, color schemes, fonts and styles.

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All email services offer numerous templates to ease the design process. These examples come from the popular Emma email service.

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A huge selection of affordable email designs are also available at sites such as ThemeForest.com.

Personalization

Email experts suggest that personalization is a powerful tactic. Based on my experience, I won’t promise personalizing your email will improve your results. Test it yourself. Send similar emails that do and don’t contain the recipients’ names to see which perform better.

Call to action (CTA)

You’ll benefit from testing your CTAs too. Consider experimenting with:

  • What they are
  • How they look
  • How many to include
  • How often they are presented
  • Where they are located (at the end, beginning, both or in a sidebar)

Offers

For direct response email, you may have an assortment of ideas about offers: free trials, discounts, multi-product kits, bonuses and various incentives. Invest the time to test offers by dividing your email database in equal parts. The insights you gather are likely to have a significant affect on the return you realize with subsequent emails.

Don’t make these common mistakes

I’ll leave you with a list of mistakes that burn time and money.

Don’t SPAM.

Email marketing is for sending messages to people who requested them. There are no exceptions. You need permission from every recipient otherwise what you’re sending is SPAM, which is unethical and a waste of time.

Vendors continue to sell email lists. They’ll tell you they’re valuable. They’re not.

Don’t push it.

The low fees and ease of entry into email marketing inspires many businesses to give it a go. They often send obnoxious hard-sell messages. They may be filtered into the spam folder. If they sneak through, they won’t do much more than tarnish your credibility.

Don’t blow off email “client” testing.

HTML emails will look different to various viewers with different software clients and devices. Your email may look perfect in your preview window, but be a train wreck on the receiving end. Test your email across the popular email services and client software types at the start or whenever you make a significant change.

Don’t ignore your data.

A ton of email marketers don’t bother with the analytics. They fail to notice if and when open rates slip, their list shrinks, or emails are bouncing and getting marked as SPAM. You need to check your email statistics every time you send one.

P.S.

Email is the pinnacle of permission marketing and a highly effective way to boost your bottom line and grow your business. It’s the only channel of online communication that remains private and provides a direct connection to your prospect.

Review the tactics and techniques offered in our three-part series to take advantage of email marketing, the most powerful form of marketing available in the digital age.

Lost? Read Part I of this series, “Where it’s at or Old Hat?”, and Part II, “Make Your Email Programs Work.”