Email Marketing for Small Business (Part 5)

Getting the Best Responses from Your Email Campaign

Flowchart of an email blast

So now you’ve built a pretty decent subscriber list, how do you get your subscribers to respond to your message?

First off, lower your expectations. If you get more than 25% of your subscribers to open your email, you are doing great. Keep in mind that the ROI for email marketing is so good because the cost of execution is comparatively good. But there are some things you can do to raise the stakes.

Measure Your Campaign’s Effectiveness

Any email service provider (ESP) worth a dollar is going to provide you with data metrics—think Google Analytics for your email blast. Here is a list of rates to measure (refer to the flowchart above):

  • Bounce Rate: There are two types of bounce rates—hard bounce and soft bounce. A hard bounce means that there is no recipient at the email address (your ESP will usually delete that address from your subscription list immediately.) A soft bounce means that something technical stopped the email—a full mailbox, a downed server, etc. (your ESP will usually delete this address after five unsuccessful tries.)
  • Unsubscribe Rate: The CAN-SPAM Act requires you to give your subscribers the option to remove themselves from your list. Your ESP may break down your unsubscribes into more granular data—including reporting spam.
  • Open Rate: Your ESP can tell when your subscriber opens the email blast (it’s technical.) You can usually infer that some part of your email was read.
  • Click Rate: Someone clicked something in your email blast. Hopefully, that click was on your call-to-action (and if you had only one, it was!)
  • Conversion Rate: Your subscriber fulfilled the goal of the email campaign. This metric might not be captured by your ESP, but it is the biggest measure of success—so capture it somewhere.
  • Abandonment Rate: This is usually called “Cart Abandonment”, but I have adopted it to include any time your subscriber drops out of your campaign.
Improve Open Rates with Good Subject Lines

Counterintuitively, enticing keywords are a turn-off. Trendy taglines that might work in other marketing channels just just bomb your open rates. What kinds of subject lines work best? Honest and straightforward. Tell your subscriber exactly what to expect by opening your email blast; if you are sending a promotion, don’t call it a newsletter. Bottom line: putting your company name in the subject line usually does best.

Improve Click Rates with Good Design

Whether you are selling a product, informing an audience, building awareness or mobilizing people, all email blasts have the same design pattern: a call-to-action linked to a landing page. All email marketing has the same one objective: to elicit a response. There is no sense in sending out an email blast without some sort of call-to-action (C2A). If you don’t have something to click in your email blast, why bother?

Designing sexy C2As is best left to an expert (like me), but here are a few tips:

Harry and David Email Blast

The Harry & David email blast’s C2A is prominent even with images turned off.

Even if you have several links in your email, feature one single C2A prominently. This is true even if you only send a quarterly newsletter. With a preponderance of choices, most email readers will choose nothing. Why muddle up your metrics with too many factors?

Make sure your email looks good with images off. Most email clients don’t allow for the automatic downloading of images. Will your email blast look blank without images? What’s going to invite your subscriber to respond then? Why force your subscriber to take one more effort before responding to you?

Don’t neglect the text version. HTML email might be the default these days, but a text-only fallback is perfectly harmless. Most email service providers automatically generate a text-only version for you. Check through it to ensure everything reads well (you might even notice mistakes the design hides.)

Avoid advanced web design. Compared to a modern web browser, most email clients are still stuck in the 20th Century (Microsoft Outlook still thinks it’s a word processor!) Even browser-based applications like Gmail can wreak havoc on your flawlessly-designed email. It’s best just to rely on tried-and-true conservative layout techniques:

  • Make your maximum width around 600 pixels
  • Don’t use background images
  • Stick to standard web fonts
  • Use “alt” text for every image
  • Avoid FLASH, animated GIFs and SVG graphics
  • Use inline CSS, or better yet, HTML attribute declarations
  • Make sure to use absolute links to your images
Test and Re-test

Never send out an email campaign without testing it first—no matter what. The more reviewers the better; the more email clients you can test the better too (while helpful, don’t completely trust the client previews your email service providers offer).

Moreover, test your campaigns with A/B split tests. Send out two samples of your email blast, and then send out the best performing version. You can test versions of your subject lines, C2A placement, or even best day to send. If you can imagine a split test, by all means test it.

Also, don’t limit your testing to the campaign itself. Test your landing pages, test your abandonment responses, and test your confirmation emails.

I have been directing email campaigns for businesses and non-profits for more than five years now. I built large lists from scratch for the automotive industry. Send me your RFP to get your email marketing started.

Email Tony MacFarlane Now!

« Part 4: Know your subscribers