Popular perception tends to look down on email as a marketing tool. The current spotlight is on Instagram and TikTok for marketing via riding on the coattails of viral videos. What people fail to realize about email is that it still offers the highest ROI of any marketing channel: 42%. Not only can an effective email strategy help save on marketing costs in the long run, it also consistently brings in new customers while nurturing the relationship with existing ones as well.
Just so we’re on the same page here, an effective email marketing strategy is one that involves a healthy mix of both flows and campaigns. Flows are an automated series of emails triggered by specific events, such as signing up for a newsletter or abandoning a cart, and there are pre-established time delays for when each email in the series is sent. Campaigns are one-time emails sent to specific lists or segments of subscribers, and they can range widely in topic from promotions to blog highlights and more. The central purpose of flows and campaigns is the same: to increase engagement, drive subscribers to the website, and grow conversions.
One of the reasons email is so effective as a marketing tool is metrics. These tell you what’s going on under the hood. Marketers can find out what’s working and what needs to be changed by monitoring these metrics and comparing the results of ongoing A/B testing. Here are some key metrics that can help you figure out how well your email marketing efforts are doing and identify potential areas for improvement:
Before the iOS 15 update, the open rate was generally the first thing agencies looked at for an email marketing strategy. This metric tells you about the percentage of subscribers who have opened the email you’ve sent—and can help determine the subject line strength.
If your open rates are abysmally low, it could be a sign that you need better subject lines to grab your reader’s attention. That said, it’s alright to not see big numbers here as the worldwide open rate for marketing emails stands at about 18%. Some good practices to boost open rates include:
- Determine the optimal send time: What time of day your email reaches your readers can be a decisive factor in determining whether or not they’ll take the time to open it. An example of this might be sending an email during peak rush hour as opposed to right before an executive might be sitting down for breakfast, ready to read.
- Be human: We’re all so used to getting spam that even subconsciously, we filter out subjects that don’t quite read naturally. A clever strategy for sending marketing emails that might help retention here is using first names and catchy subject lines as opposed to robotic-sounding copy.
- Watch out for filters: Email filters are notorious for tanking email marketing metrics. The novice marketer might fall prey to these even though their emails were definitely not written by a bot. The ways to avoid this are fairly commonsensical, don’t use words like “free” in subject lines, send a reasonable amount of emails, and have an authenticated account.
Apple’s recent iOS 15 update has affected the way we analyze email open rates. Since open rates are no longer considered a reliable metric, click rates give a better understanding of user engagement. The click-through-rate, or CTR, tells you how many readers ended up clicking the links in your email going to your website. CTR’s greatest strength lies in being an indicator of how convincing the content of your emails is. If you’re seeing increases and stable numbers, it means readers are responding well to your calls to action and copy.
The opposite is equally true as well. Low numbers are strong indicators for marketers to switch up their marketing strategy for emails. Here are some tips that might help:
- Know your industry: It’s not uncommon for CTR to be lower than open rates given that some people will inevitably not end up clicking through for reasons that’ll have nothing to do with the copy you’re using to market. It’s worth knowing that CTR also varies across industries, so find out what an acceptable rate for yours might be.
- Rethink the copy: If you don’t have a sound strategy for your emails, the process can feel like throwing things at the wall to see what sticks. Improvement in low CTR can be achieved by optimizing both the copy inside your emails and the subject lines, always keeping your target audience in mind. It’s good practice to include keywords that might draw readers’ eyes and to have clear, strong calls to action.
- Use appealing imagery: Email’s come a long way since the Windows XP days. Advancements in compression technology mean that almost every successful email marketing strategy will incorporate images effectively in their copy. If you’re seeing a fall in this metric it might be worth trying out some fresh imagery close to your calls to action as a way of drawing customers in.
- Incorporate SEO: Smart SEO practices don’t just end with search engines. Integrating keywords into copy and headers can help boost your CTR and organic search rankings simultaneously.
- Clean your email list: Periodically remove inactive subscribers that haven’t engaged in the past six months. Before you remove subscribers, send a win back email campaign to give users the option to remain subscribed.
- Segmentation: Helps make the content as relevant as possible. By creating relevant content for specific audience segments, subscribers are more likely to open and engage with an email.
When it comes to email marketing metrics in general and for CTR in particular, the golden marketing principle of ‘Quality>Quantity’ still applies. Always aim to create content that is valuable and relevant, writing strategically to convert readers. Follow this principle, and there’s no reason to not expect higher CTRs to come running along.
Bounce rate essentially reflects the quality of your subscriber list. It is the measure of emails ‘returned to sender,’ calculated by taking the number of emails returned by mailing servers over the number of total subscribers on your list. It’s important to keep an eye on this as email service providers (ESPs) flag senders that consistently maintain high bounce rates, which can damage your sender reputation and result in your emails ending up in the spam folder.
Similar to open rates, bounce rates also vary by industry, but if you notice yours starting to inch upwards, consider the following changes:
- ABV, Always Be Verifying: Integrate verification of your subscriber list on a regular basis as a part of your email marketing strategy. Verification involves combing through your contacts list and removing emails that consistently get sent back by mailing servers or just show no response at all. Doing this automatically reduces your bounce rate as you’ll no longer be emailing these addresses.
- Get their permission: As advanced as spam filters and bot detection are now, it’s always a good idea to establish direct communication with your target audience only after you receive permission. Make sure you have buttons that give your audience the choice to opt-in to your emails. Incentivizing customers to opt-in through exclusive email offers can be an effective way of doing this. Once you’ve gotten their permission, focus on establishing a steady cadence for email communication (read: not spamming them!) and you’re good to go.
This is the big one. Some marketers have tunnel-vision on this metric, even building their campaigns around it, and perhaps rightly so. Conversion rate measures the number of people who completed certain actions after clicking through the link in an email. As far as performance indicators go, the conversion rate is the most immediate metric for what kind of sales you might expect from your email marketing efforts.
Failing to achieve your target conversion rate is a definite indicator of the ROI you can expect. You can optimize your conversion rates with a few handy tweaks:
- Design with mobile in mind: 4 out of 10 emails are opened with mobile applications. When you’re creating an email marketing strategy solely around desktop users, you’re alienating 40% of your potential customers. Optimizing for email is easy and reaps massive dividends for marketers. It can be as simple as using larger fonts, increasing the spacing between CTA buttons, and formatting concisely.
- Always be testing: A/B testing, or split testing, is integral to any successful email marketing strategy, and it should always be ongoing. You can test different subject lines or time delays between emails to see which one gets higher conversion rates, or experiment with new creatives or CTAs you wouldn’t have otherwise used. Remember that one test is not enough to determine a clear winner between the variations–perform multiple A/B tests to ensure that you see the same pattern emerge consistently. Once you see what works and what doesn’t, you can consolidate that into a plan that sticks the landing every time.
- Segmentation: Dividing your subscriber list into many different sub-categories allows you to target different types of consumers with precision. Segmentation can help grow your lists and appeal to broader audiences by tailoring email content for specific segments and sending only to those contacts. This prevents the issue of mass emails that need to be more general and may not be as relevant or effective for some subuscribers. If you’re not sure where to begin with segmentation, consider creating buyer personas for your products.
- Optimize your CTAs: Conversion rates ultimately depend on how persuasive your copy is. You can optimize, segment, and build for every device, but if your calls to action just don’t give the reader a reason to click through, they probably won’t.
- Make your CTA as specific to your reader as you can. For example, if a segment of your target audience lives in a certain locale, tailoring your language and CTA to that area can be incredibly effective. Amazon utilizes this tactic well.
- Placement is everything. Position your links where the reader will be most likely to click them. A glowing ‘Buy Now’ button at the very top of your email does nothing since readers won’t know what they’re buying yet or why they should even buy it. Combining CTAs with personalized graphics can be a very powerful way of boosting conversions.
- Switch things up: Variety can go a long way in getting conversions. Change your email formatting once in a while to keep readers interested by incorporating a GIF or video rather than a static image. One popular tactic used by ecommerce sites is offering limited-time discounts along with voucher codes exclusively for their email audience. These strategies prevent stagnancy and incentivize your audience to keep opening emails, boosting your metrics across the board.
The dreaded unsubscribe rate is both unpleasant to look at and incredibly important for any email marketing strategy. The unsubscribe rate measures how many people ultimately decided to opt out of your subscriber list. You can think of this metric as a sort of ‘review’ for your email marketing campaign. High unsubscribe rates indicate a failure to understand the audience you’re targeting.
Worldwide, what is considered to be the “acceptable” threshold for email unsubscribe rates is 0.1%. While a certain percentage is to be expected, a sustained increase in this metric is a solid indication that you should adjust your strategy. Here are some factors to consider:
- Trust: Email marketing is a game of trust between the business and the reader. In an era where the average reader hears stories of phishing regularly, you need to make sure you’re doing all you can to maintain the trust of your subscribers. This can include getting an SSL certificate, authenticating your email account, adding a business logo, and digitally signing your emails. This also helps your emails dodge spam filters.
- Frequency: To maintain a connection with your audience, it’s essential to establish a send cadence as part of your email marketing strategy. If emails are too infrequent, you risk disappearing from your subscribers’ memory, and you may end up getting reported as spam. On the other hand, if you email them too much, people are more likely to unsubscribe and you may be reported as spam again. Establishing a healthy amount of email communication with your subscribers is a simple and effective way of forming a lasting connection.
- Acceptance: This can be the difference between getting your account suspended for duplicitous activity and pulling your marketing game up by the bootstraps. When faced with soaring unsubscribe rates, marketers are generally faced with two options:
- Take it as a sign to dive even deeper and increase the frequency of emails out of desperation. As you’d expect, this only compounds the problem and ends up getting your account suspended for spam.
- Or, step back and re-evaluate the metrics and the overall email marketing strategy. This can involve processes like A/B testing, re-writing copy, and bringing in new designers to overhaul the look of your emails.
If you have to pick between the two as an email marketer, always opt for the second one. There’s no guarantee you’ll recoup your lost subscribers, it might even be highly unlikely, but it’ll set you up to onboard new and lasting readers.
Harnessing the arsenal of data that email marketing metrics provide you can result in a sizable boost in revenue for what just might be a small bit of effort. Coalition Technologies helps businesses make the most of their metrics, turning data into gold with smart and sustainable email marketing strategies.