With the interest in this month’s coaching call, here’s an article on email marketing I wrote earlier that may help those looking to improve their efforts.
Another twelve months of email marketing lie ahead but should you carry on in January just as you ended in December? Planning for the year ahead is a great time to take stock of the last 12 months of email marketing statistics to determine what trends, if any, signify the need for an email marketing strategy review.
To start this process I suggest you tabulate the key email messaging statistics for last year’s campaigns including invalids, bounces, opens, clicks and unsubscribes. Firstly, let’s start with invalids and opens. Any trends you see in these two values should match any changes you have made in your data collection and management methods.
For instance, if you collected a large number of new email addresses through a trade show in June by asking prospects to write their details onto a card then, when you emailed them with July’s newsletter, both invalid and bounce percentages should have risen due to this quick but notoriously unreliable method of data collection. Likewise, if you started to collect permission for your email newsletter online by asking subscribers to fill in a form on which they confirmed their email address twice then your invalid and bounce rates should have been seen to slowly fall.
If the values of both invalids and bounces have remained relatively flat, with your bounce rate being below 2.5% and your invalid rate below 2% then all is fine. Your work here may be on finding new methods to re-activate those already in these two groups.
Managing the re-activation of bounced email addresses is not the easiest of tasks in which to achieve and as such is frequently missed. Perhaps this is the year that you instigate a process that helps to find these lost subscribers?
When tracking your open rates you may see a slow decline. Don’t be too concerned – as I mentioned on our coaching call this month, this is due to an increasing percentage of subscribers using email clients that suppress images by default. (The open rate statistic is gathered by tracking a subscriber’s ability to download an image that is specific to them but otherwise hidden in the email content.)
However, if the last 12 months’ figures show a falling open rate that is greater than a 5% change then your issues may lie with your content rather than any industry-wide issue and further investigation will be required. For those with a relatively consistent email list, e.g. a monthly newsletter, I would advise reviewing each email send with a view to splitting subscribers who have opened the message into two groups – new and existing subscribers. (New being those who see this month’s edition as their first.)
The data may show a disproportionate number of new subscribers opening the message compared with those already on the list. This reveals content that appeals the first few times it is received but then quickly wanes as editions continue to roll out. If there is no conclusive evidence based on splitting the open rate by the recency of subscription, try to look further into the make up of those opening across multiple editions to see if there is some sort of common ‘opener subscriber’ profile.
Conversely, for those not opening – are there any specific characteristics in this group, e.g. high value customers, low value customers? For some reason the communication is not continuing to resonate with a specific audience segment(s). If one of the common components of your ‘non-opener profile’ is the ISP they are using to collect their email through then you could be having issues with successful deliverability to this audience.
Check to ensure that you have a number of seed addresses for this ISP and run some of your own tests using the content of prior editions to see if this is the problem. For those newsletters that rely on a website to hold most of their content, click-through rates are strong gauges of content comprehension. These statistics are not artificially deflated by any outside technology trends and as such can be viewed as a true reflection on the success of your email communication methods.
A twelve-month review of what content generates the most click throughs will help to further cement your understanding of the content your email audience finds the most appealing. Likewise, the converse statistic will guide you on what not to include in your next edition. Falling click-through rates are a concern. As for falling open rates, it helps to find any common subscriber profiles among those doing more or less clicking.
To help you, some email dispatch tools automatically show the percentage of existing and new clickers as individual tools for each campaign. In this case editions that show an even split between new and old clickers reveal content that is appealing to both subscriber groups. Other tools just bundle your clickers into the one aggregate group for you to split out yourself.
I see the unsubscribe action as being somewhat like the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff of inattention. Falling open and click-through rates are the precursor to people taking up this option. A high proportion of those not opening or clicking will have mentally unsubscribed to your communications well before they choose to click on your link to confirm their status.
That said, after plotting your twelve-month unsubscribe trend you should see a relatively steady set of unsubscribe figures – any sharp increases are strong cause for concern.
So there you go – just a few quick ways to ensure your email marketing efforts for 2012 are built on your learning from 2011 allowing for any tweaks, where required, to your overall communication strategy.