When you’re looking at the big picture — email campaign metrics, month over month — sometimes it can be challenging to think about how little-picture changes can make a huge impact on your marketing email open rates.
Photo: Open by flickr member Chuck Coker
Rather than scaring up yet another big strategy, think small. Plan out a series of incremental changes that you can test gradually over time. Only your subscribers know what’s going to make them click. Through tweaking, testing and listening you will learn what works uniquely for your own subscriber base.
Improving your open rate, one test at a time
We know subscribers are unpredictable; never assume to know what will prompt your audience to open your email when maybe they haven’t before.
Even best practices can let you down. This is why we test. And we test each change or improvement on its own. While this does take more time, testing enables you to know without the shadow of a doubt that a specific adjustment is responsible for a change in user response rates.
Despite all the popular wisdom out there, your subscribers probably have a rhythm that is uniquely their own.
There’s a right time and there’s a wrong time to send
Observing the metrics in your email marketing tool will only tell you so much. Make sure you are accurately tracking each campaign in as much detail as possible in your website analytics. It will give you more granular information about each campaign, and enable you to analyze the results from different angles.
Look at overall patterns in your website activity and purchasing patterns by time zone, day of week and time of day. Chances are the times when your customers are likely to buy are also great times to reach them with those marketing emails. Take into consideration where your subscribers live and split your lists based on time zone. That 11 a.m. EST spike may in fact be your customers on the West Coast firing up their email first thing in the morning.
Despite all the popular wisdom out there, your subscribers probably have a rhythm that is uniquely their own. Who knew that your big spenders were ready to buy between 2 and 4 a.m. on Wednesdays? Not your CEO. Not the digital marketing pundits. You did, because you took time to do the research and run some tests.
The best subject line is the one that works for you
Subject line length and content is a source of endless email marketing folk wisdom and arcana: long, sort, recipient’s name, no name, call to action, question… Crafting the right subject line is as much art as it is science.
We suggest that you review a year of past email marketing data. Compare open rates for as many emails as possible. Isolate the characteristics of subject lines that have a higher open rate. Then test these characteristics, one subject line at a time, against a control.
Again, it’s painstaking work (though, admittedly, we find it fun). If you begin your tests equipped with historical data rather than random best practices, you will find unique variations that work for you and your subscriber base alone.
Who are you selling to, and what do they want?
We can’t overemphasize the value of segmenting and re-segmenting your lists to send emails that are unique to a demographic, geography or purchasing history.
The better you know who your customers are today based on their personas, the better you will understand how to draw subscribers in with email content and offers that make them feel tingly all over.
While assessing subscriber metrics, look at the interval between opens. If you send frequently you may already have a natural split you can leverage: subscribers who haven’t opened several emails in the past month, versus those who have.
Once you know who they are, find out what will push their buttons
Maybe all of a sudden the kids want a yellow hoodie that looks like a electrically-charged rodent? You want to know this, and to send emails to kids who want what they want, when they want it (or to their parents who are losing their minds trying to find it).
Again, dig in your analytics. If you have a merchandising team, ask if they know what’s coming, what’s selling, and who’s buying. Keep an eye open for emerging trends and patterns that you can capitalize on. Google Trends is a fascinating tool for spotting consumer behaviours.
What does this have to do with open rates? Once you begin to target segments and sub segments with products and services that are uniquely for them, draw subscribers in with seductive subject lines. Over time, you will become that company that knows what the kids want, and puts it in their inbox before they even know they want it. That’s going to improve your open rates.
Send more, not less
This piece of advice is often overlooked, but do so at your peril. Test sending more frequently and you may be surprised to see people who haven’t opened before now opening your marketing emails. Yes, your unsubscribe rate may also increase, but ultimately you need to follow the money. (Of course, to follow the money you must have analytics in place that can track purchases referred by your marketing emails.)
The caveat: provide your subscribers with a way of telling you how often they want to receive your emails; this will mitigate the number of unsubscribes.
Think about your sender name
Your sender name is one of the biggest factors in determining whether an email gets opened. Do your subscribers recognize the sender? Do they know your company name? Test out different names. Send emails from your sales rep, from a different (more appropriate) department, from a high profile member of your team… Make sure you use your own domain, and avoid the no-reply at all costs.
Small, incremental changes over time
Knowing what will pique your subscribers’ curiosity enough to open your emails is a long game. Your subscribers will tell you what works for them. Testing small, incremental changes over time will bring you closer to their (often very subjective) preferences. Over time, this process earns trust, and cultivates a more reciprocal relationship with your subscribers.
Do you have an open rate success story? We’d love to hear it.