Email is extremely personal. It's one thing we generally don't share with anyone, including long-time friends and family members. However, a shocking 67% of people surveyed reported that they share email and social networking passwords with their partners. This means that when you, as an entity, send an email to someone, you are invading a very personal space that they only share with people they are romantically involved with if anyone at all.
Successful email marketing is possible, but it's tricky, and it requires some effort. In this post, we'll take a look at some practical and really simple things that you can do to drastically improve your open and click through rates. But first, we need to recognize that the “marketing via email” strategy has reached critical mass.
Let's take my wife's email account (don't worry, I asked her if I could share this information for educational purposes). As of right now, her "Promotions" folder in Gmail looks like this (truncated)...
In 6 hours, my wife has gotten 16 emails that fall into the "Promotions" category. In that same six hours she got 17 "Updates" and 5 "Focused" messages. That's a total of 38 emails in 5 hours. That's roughly 190 emails every single day! If you're a company and you're trying to get a promotion or piece of news to my wife, good luck.
This should make you think twice, if not ten times, about any and all email marketing content. Most marketing emails serve little purpose besides irking users and invading their privacy.
It doesn't have to be this way.
Marketing/Advertising is generally looked at with negative connotations due to the fact that there are a lot of companies out there that abuse their platform. In order for marketing to be successful, it needs to do three things:
1. Grab the customer's attention
2. Make a direct human connection
3. Move the customer to action
That's it! Three simple steps, right? When marketing is done right, it's not a nuisance, it's a delight. Sitefinity has a lot of serious tools to help with your email marketing, and even provides hooks into other providers such as SendGrid if you prefer.
Let's break down what you can do to get those open and click rates up based on what we know needs to be done to do marketing well, and how Sitefinity can help you do it.
When it comes to improving your email marketing, the single most important piece of information that you need about a customer (aside from their email address) is their time zone.
Research from GetResponse notes that most emails are opened in the first hour after delivery: a staggering 23.63% open rate. Each hour that goes by after this reduces that number and by the time you hit 24 hours, the rate is nearly zero. That means that if you send me an email in the middle of the night, the chances of my opening it are slim to none. This same report shows that the best time to email someone is 8 – 10 am and 3 – 4 pm.
Sitefinity Form Builder will allow you to create a form in which you can capture the time zone and email address. It also connects these form entries directly to an email list.
Out of the box, Sitefinity allows you to schedule and send emails in batches. However, it doesn’t allow you to send batches based on time zones. Fortunately, that’s relatively easy to implement in a custom module. This way your email will show up at the precise time when its chances of being opened are highest.
Now that you’re sending the email at the right time, the next step is to come with a subject that’s compelling enough to move someone to open it.
Notice i said a “compelling subject,” not “gobs of link bait.” Too much link bait is like too much beer or too much pizza; It just makes you sick. These would be subjects like, “You won’t believe what happens next!” or “One weird trick.”
“You mean like the title of this post?!?” Yes. Exactly. That’s exactly what I mean.
Good subjects don’t have to be elaborate. Remember, good marketing will make a human connection. Steer clear of generic subjects that don’t explain what’s in the email or make a connection with the reader. Here are a few examples:
The “healthy lifestyle” phrase occurs so much in internet and email marketing that our brains have been trained to auto-categorize this as crap without even really reading the subject at all. Delete.
What does that even mean!?! You’re having a sale? Who cares. I’ve got 200 messages in my inbox that all contain the word “save” or some variation of the form of that word. Delete.
Let’s do one more…
Nope. Not even a complete thought. The chances of me clicking on this to try and decipher what you meant to say are about as good as the chances of me coming up with a good analogy right now. DELETE.
Good subjects are concise and creative. It’s very tempting to try and put the main point of your email as the subject since that is the point of a typical email subject. However, when it comes to marketing, that’s totally unnecessary. All you need to do is stimulate the otherwise overloaded brain of your reader. Here are few great examples.
Pier 1 is obviously doing some promotion around their lighting products. Pier 1 knows that they have brand mindshare (at least in the US) as a home goods store. With that brand equity, they don’t simply announce their promotion; they speak it into being with god-like power.
Kickstarter has great email marketing. They are not pushy. Notice they don’t say “Projects YOU will love.” Don’t underestimate the power of your opinion. Don’t pander. Kickstarter has rad stuff and they know it. All they have to do is share the ones they love with you.
MapBox makes maps software for iOS and Android. They are sending me this email because I registered for their API as a developer. They know that the key to my using MapBox is being successful with their software. The answer, just ask how it’s going! So simple and yet so effective. If I was frustrated or unable to get going with their product, they’ve just reached out to me and given me a chance to get help directly. Brilliant.
One last item to note is that you want to make your great subject stand out. One really easy way to do that is to include Emoji. Check out this screenshot of my wife’s inbox again. Which email catches your eye?
A little Emoji goes a long way. It will draw the reader’s eye to your message and make it stand out from the otherwise incredibly mundane wall of text that is the inbox.
Now that you’ve got the reader’s attention and they’ve opened your email, you can move on to step 3.
You’ve already won a huge battle by getting the user to open your email, but that doesn’t mean they are going to read it. Time zones and witty subject lines are easy. The actual content of the email is where the rubber meets the road.
Formatting content for email is super complicated. If you struggle with this and feel like you are alone, you are most definitely not. Every other person on the face of the planet fights this battle every time they create a new template. What size is the customer’s screen? Do they have HTML enabled? If so, is the email client going to block my images?
Fortunately, there are a few simple principles that you can apply that will get you well on the road to beautiful content—even if you aren’t a designer.
Too often I see companies trying to cram their entire website into an email. Don’t do that. Just because the customer opened your email doesn’t give you the right to throw everything that you’ve ever wanted to say at them all at once. Find what you want to say most and leave everything else out.
What one thing do you want the customer to do when they open the email? The answer to that question should not be “buy stuff.” You need to identify exactly what discrete action you want them to take. Should they sign up for something? Print a coupon? Make an online purchase with a promo code? Whatever that one thing is, put that at the top of the email and put it first.
Leave the wall of text at home. Take your one idea and display it with crisp, clean imagery that invites the customer to interact with it. If you aren’t Picasso, or your graphic design skills start and end with Microsoft Paint, you are probably going to want to leverage a design service. It doesn’t have to be expensive either. Fiverr is a great option for getting some low cost graphic design work done and there is a whole host of other services just like it.
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s look at an example of what not to do. Here is exhibit A...
Now this email is arguably very attractive. Bold, flat colors. The big saw clock in the middle actually moves in the actual email. It’s all very well done. BUT, it is way, way too much. Seeing this much content when I open an email stresses me out. It looks like they just shipped me their entire website—navigation and all.
Really, they could have just kept the neat ticking clock and stripped away all of the other garbage that gets in the way of me clicking on “Shop All.”
Exhibit B is a much better specimen…
This email is minimalistic, they get right to the point—showing you the shirts that they think will make you LOL (whatever that means) and they lead with imagery. Fantastic! As a customer, it’s very easy for me to determine whether or not I like any of these shirts and take action.
Sitefinity includes a nice designer to help you craft the perfect email. Combine that with the points outlined above, and you’ll find yourself creating compelling and visually stunning emails in no time. On to step 4!
If you’re a marketer, you don’t need to be told to AB test. If you aren’t sure what AB testing is, it’s simply the process of coming up with multiple iterations of the same email and then testing to see which ones get the better open and click through rates. Here is a good rule of thumb: if you haven’t AB tested it, you’re doing it wrong.
You should be AB testing each one of the previous three steps here: delivery time, subject and email content. This is one of the only tools that you have to improve your rates using data. Once you find a format that works, go with it. You’ll AB test a lot in the beginning and then less as time goes on.
Sitefinity can do automatic AB testing for you, and even send the rest of your emails when it determines which test is the winner. Totally automated, totally awesome.
This might be the most important of the five steps. Just because you have someone’s contact information does not give you the right to contact them whenever you feel like it like you’re back in junior high. An astounding 46% of people said that they unsubscribed (or marked as spam) email because it was sent too often.
So how often should you email? As a general rule of thumb, emailing people weekly is the sweet spot.
That seems like a lot, I know, but there is data to back up this frequency. Tests have shown that anything more than weekly is too much, and anything less and your customer will feel like they never hear from you.
Keep in mind, though, as the site I just linked to twice mentions, these are not your subscribers. You know your customers better than anyone else. Be respectful of their inbox, but don’t neglect them. Find the frequency that works for you and roll with. Also, guess what—you should AB test this.
You don’t have to be a marketing genius to be a brilliant emailer. Just be a human being. You have an inbox. You know what it’s like to receive emails. Follow the steps outlined above, measure your results and see if you can’t drastically improve your email marketing. Remember, these steps are:
1. Send emails at the right time
2. Have a compelling subject
3. Create beautiful emails
4. AB Test
5. Don’t Spam
You’re going to do email marketing anyway, so why not make it awesome? As Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield, once said:
“Whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well.”
Do emails well, and remember the five steps to better open and click through rates.
Burke Holland is a web developer living in Nashville, TN and the Director of Developer Relations at Telerik. He enjoys working with and meeting developers who are building mobile apps with jQuery / HTML5 and loves to hack on social API's. Burke works for Telerik as a Developer Advocate focusing on Kendo UI.
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