What we learned from helping our clients send 500 million emails
Let’s face it, there are a myriad of things to consider in email marketing and you won’t get everything right all of the time. In this guide we will show you how to tame the beast so you get the most important bits right most of the time.
Read on and in 15 minutes you will have learned how to build email campaigns that yield higher opens and conversions without having to master a complex and special skill. It’s all about staying focused and making small, iterative improvements.
Click through rate and conversions
Click through rate (CTR) measures the effectiveness of your individual email message. Conversation rate measures the effectiveness of your email campaigns. These are your most important metrics for every email you send.
Clicks take people to landing pages where you should have well optimized conversion mechanisms in place: request a quote option, buy a ticket button, get a demo form, phone number to call, start chat with sales, download a PDF, etc.
Open rate is a prerequisite
You need to get your emails opened to get clicks. But just as visits to websites are not as important as conversions, open rates for emails are secondary to click through rate – and somewhat unreliable because open tracking relies on a small tracking image loading – or not – and can be artificially inflated by inbox previews.
The average open rate of emails sent by our clients is around 20% and the average CTR is just over 3%. Because your goal is to create above average emails you should
Aim for an open rate of over 30% and CTR of over 5%
Unsubscribes are nice to know
If you aren’t into spamming and send relevant content to an interested audience – people who subscribed to receive messages from you – then you don’t need to worry about unsubscribes. Glance over this metric but don’t obsess over it. Some people will unsubscribe, you can’t avoid it. Get new subscribers to combat natural list churn due to emails that go out of service.
Some metrics will only sidetrack you from important ones. Opens per device is a good example. Roughly half of emails are opened on mobile devices. That’s all you need to know. Whether it’s actually 41% or 64% or what version of Android is used just doesn’t matter. You must optimize your layout for both mobile and desktop for every single email, period.
Jaw dropping design is great but most of the time you won’t have a designer handy so here are some simple design tips that anyone can follow.
(If you do work with a designer don’t let them talk you into brilliant but complex design elements. The best use of a designer’s time for email messages is to create nice images and come up with a great colour palette. Anything more and you’re risking death by complexity.)
Always. Use. Images.
Depending on who you ask – dating sites, eBay, Facebook, etc. – they will tell you that images increase interest significantly. They are right. Whether it’s by 25%, double or triple, who cares. By a lot. Use them generously.
Buy images if you have to. If a $15 image has the potential to increase your conversion rate by double digits is that worth it? Hell yeah!
An exception to this rule is if your images are…hmm…ugly. They will actually hurt your CTR. If you don’t have great images and don’t want to buy them then don’t use any and send text only messages instead.
No giant logos
Don’t confuse an email for a billboard. Huge logos take up a lot of valuable space near the top of your messages. If your content is good people will look for your logo, no matter where you place it and how big or small it is.
Add plenty of padding
This is probably the simplest tip and the one most frequently overlooked: Add plenty of padding around text and images!
Finally, use no more than three colours for your text per email, remember that san-serif generally performs better than serif and don’t make fonts smaller than 14pt.
We established that CTR is the key metric for your emails, which means that link placement, style and wording are critical.
Calls to action
Don’t use “click here” or “read more” as links. Use call to action (CTA) buttons and text that describe benefits for your contacts. Why should they click through?
Call to action buttons are most effective when used in combination with text links. Always underline text links and choose a colour that is different from your body copy. You want links to pop out not to blend in.
And please, don’t use URLs as links:
The first links in your email tend to get the most clicks so be sure your most important links are among them. You may also repeat the same link throughout your email and even add it as a postscript at the end of your email.
Links should also be at predictable locations. Links scattered across your message will get significantly fewer clicks than links that appear in a predictable “headline-image-article-link” pattern.
Whether you’re a seasoned copywriter or working on your first email campaign your objective is to create content that moves the CTR needle. You may be passionate about a topic and could write a book about it but resist the temptation to send your subscribers a novel.
Keep it short
Emails should be teasers that spark interest and take readers to landing pages. Conversion happens on landing pages and that’s where you want your contacts to be. This practice has the added benefit of being measurable: the clicks report for your email campaign provides insight into what content generates the most interest.
Get the subject line right
Spend some time to tinker with your subject line as it plays a critical role in getting opens. No opens, no clicks.
“News From May 12, Tuesday”. Can you imagine this as a newspaper headline? Never. Newspaper headlines scream for attention so you want to check out what the story is about. Similarly, you shouldn’t use “June Newsletter, Issue #8” as your subject line.
Good subject lines often promise to save time or money, solve a specific problem, quantify benefits, include the recipient’s name and may even create mild disbelief and a sense of urgency to turn recipients into readers.
Here are some examples:
- This is how Joey saves 40 minutes a day on admin tasks
- Check out our featured destinations, 20% off this week only
- Terry, do you need more donors?
- File your taxes headache-free. No way?
Add benefits and personalization
As you write your email content put yourself in your readers’ shoes and ask: “Why should I care? What’s in it for me?”
The first step is to personalize your greeting and even parts of your content. Starting with “Hello Susan” is a great way to get Susan’s attention.
Image credit superoffice.com
Leverage pre-header and above the fold content
The pre-header content shows up in inboxes next to or below the sender and the subject line. It’s the perfect place for a short sentence to entice contacts to open your email.
Next, think about what your readers see right away without scrolling. This is called the “above the fold” content and you should ensure that your most important content – or at least parts of it – is included in this area.
Finally, remember that emails are fleeting. Don’t obsess over perfection and spend days writing content. People read your emails once then delete, archive or simply leave it behind and never look back.
Sender, list, timing, testing
Send emails to an interested audience only. Failure to do so will result in unsubscribes, spam complaints and even issues with your email provider.
If your list is too small then focus your energy on growing it instead of devising diabolical plans to get away with sending unwanted messages to purchased lists.
The best time to send emails
You want to send emails when people read them as the messages arrive in their inboxes and not be buried on page three of the “Monday morning inbox”. Sometime between 10am and 3pm on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday work best for most – but not all emails. Emails about vacation ideas, for example, perform better on weekends.
Monday mornings and Friday afternoons are bad choices no matter what you’re sending.
Frequency of e-blasts
Don’t over email or under email your list. Both are problematic and result in higher than normal unsubscribes and missed opportunities.
Sender name and email
The from name is the first thing your audience sees in their inboxes. “Mary from Acme Inc.” is much better than “Acme front desk” and infinitely better than “Administrator”. The from email address may also be shown in inbox previews. Don’t make it noreply@, instead make it personal or at least relevant such as support@ or mary@.
Test, test and test some more
The old adage “Measure twice, cut once” for email campaigns sounds more like “test ten times, send e-blast once”.
Unless you end up sending at least five test copies and tweaking things after each test you are probably missing out on small changes that make a big difference such as broken links, embarrassing typos or a better subject line.
The “view online” link is old and overrated. For many years it has been the first link in every email on the very top. Modern email clients can reliably display images and formatting, yet many email messages still religiously include them on the top of messages, which is valuable real estate for a catchy pre-header sentence. If you must include a view online link do so after the pre-header or in the footer.
Use a combination of links to your social media accounts and getting readers to share your email to their timelines or feeds to maximize new followers and the viral effect. Add the social media links in the footer instead of the header to save the top of the email for more important content as mentioned above. An exception is when the links are next to your logo in an area that would otherwise be blank space.
Sign up option
Take every opportunity to grow your list and include a subscribe to this list link in the footer. Yes, your contacts are all subscribers already but they may have forwarded your email to others who aren’t subscribers yet. Subscribers will forgive you for this and non-subscribers will thank you for making it easier to sign up.
What else can I do?
There are many more subtle and advanced techniques that we deliberately omitted from this guide. You could use animated gifs, countdown timers, background images, dynamically hidden navigation bars and live Twitter feeds, just to name a few. These advanced techniques are a ton of work to produce and test. You need to consider fallback options for devices with no rich media support and be a coding expert.
Become a grandmaster of basic best practices before experimenting with advanced techniques.
Advanced and “fancy” details will only increase results slightly and the effort is rarely worth your time. You’re far better off spending a few hours on creating well converting emails that look good in all major email clients – even if these emails have some design limitations – than creating a masterpiece that takes multiple support calls and involves several tech people from your team to deploy just to gain a tiny increase in results or may actually decrease conversions because in the midst of troubleshooting and figuring out how to make complex stuff work you lose sight of your primary goal of getting clicks.
How do I actually do all this?
By now you are hopefully convinced that clicks are more important than complex design, learned a bit about writing content that people will want to read, know when and who to send your emails to and how to measure success. Great! You just have one question: “How do I actually do all this?”
Here is a collection of articles to show you how to execute the tactics described above in your Envoke account plus two very different but equally effective examples for inspiration.
This webinar invite is almost entirely text only, very focused, personalized and uses multiple CTAs for the same goal. The subject line describes benefits: Free Webinar Wednesday: Turn Your Website Into a Membership Growth Engine, the sender Terry from Wild Apricot [firstname.lastname@example.org] matches the signature that includes a picture of Terry.
This newsletter includes multiple offers, uses a consistent, neat layout, stunning images throughout and short articles that link to landing pages.