Ignore Your Email Marketing Open Rates

It often surprises me when I ask email marketers, “How is your campaign going?” and they answer with something similar to “Very well! Our open rate is 30%, which is above the industry average by 10 percentage points.” I cringe. Not because the open rate isn’t important, but because using it as your key primary indicator (KPI) often misleads your email marketing campaigns.

What’s wrong with the open rate metric?

It’s not 100% reliable, to say the least. The open rate is counted when a small 1×1 pixel image is loaded by the subscriber’s email client. A preview pane in Outlook counts if the images load. Thumbing through emails where your image loads counts. These examples show your recipients may be opening it but haven’t seen any of your content. Open rate does not mean they read your email.

Knowing this you can then logically deduce what constitutes a non-open. Simply, the image not loading. If you read it as TEXT on your Blackberry, you didn’t “open” it. If your Gmail blocks images, then you’re an unengaged subscriber to the marketer. You could have read all of the content by clicking “View as web page”, reading it in your browser, and the email would remain “unopened”.

What can you learn from the open rate?

Assuming you’re measuring it correctly… Emails Delivered / Unique Emails Opened = Open Rate … the open rate can tell you some interesting things about your campaign. Comparing it over time, you can make some high level guesses (I’ll explain later why I say guesses) about your emails. You can see if your contacts are becoming more or less interested in your content. You can A/B split test two emails against each other to see which subject line helped push it higher. You can get an overall performance of what percentage is engaged, as long as you remember the chance of error up or down as previously pointed out.

Many assume that there is a direct correlation between subject line and open rate. Mostly because there isn’t a great alternative if you’re using open rate as your primary KPI. Marketers will slave over the subject line attributed every up and down to the power of the subject line. The problem is that all of the invisible factors get ignored and decisions are made on the subject line alone.

Below are some other factors that affect the open rate:

  • Time of day
  • Day of week
  • Holidays
  • Last email received (did it make a good or bad impression)
  • From alias
  • From address
  • Workload of recipient
  • Amount of email in recipient’s inbox
  • Mood of recipient

Look at your own email habits.

As marketers, I’m guilty of this, we get so caught up in the numbers and content that we forget about our own habits. Sometimes I subscribe to an email newsletter because I dealt with the company or wanted to receive their content. Over the next few months, they send me emails here and there. I don’t unsubscribe because I still value the relationship, but often don’t read the emails either. I delete them from my iPhone because I compulsively avoid the small red circle with numbers telling me I have alerts. But the images loaded before I deleted it and as a result the email marketer is patting themselves on the back because they have a large list of people who are “opening” their emails. Their running to their boss saying “Look! Look! We’re making a difference!” But are they? Take a look at your own email habits and accept that it’s probably similar to your subscribers.

What’s better than the open rate metric?

Anytime you can get closer to the “sale” or at least the conversion, the better. A click… Emails Delivered / Unique Emails Clicked = Click Rate… is better than an open. A registration is better than a click. A lead is better than a registration. A sale is better than a lead. These other metrics are sometimes ignored because they are often small. It seems more important to report large numbers. It’s impressive to say we have a 45% open rate versus saying we have a 5% click rate. I’d argue that you can learn much more about the 5% that clicked on the email than you can about the 45%. What link did they click on? When did they click on it? How many times? You can’t get that with an open rate. But you can use this information to improve your email as I hope you believe, the most important factor is the content. Try this thought experiment. Would you rather have 100% open rate and 0% of the people engaged with your content (i.e. clicked) or 0% open rate and 100% of the people clicked. Yes you can have a click without an open, per our definition above.

Summary

The purpose of this post is to challenge the open rate as the primary KPI. If you’re an email marketer who is currently using open rates to make tactical or strategic decisions about your emails, I’d caution how much information you actually have. There is an infinite number of reasons on why someone opens an email but a much more limited number of how many engage with it by clicking on the content or following up with the company down the line in the sales funnel. Be aware of the open rate as a trend guide, but don’t rely on it to prove your campaign is successful. When asked the question “How’s your campaign going?” I’d hope you answer along the lines of “Very well. We saw 25% of our engaged customers click on a whitepaper in our last monthly email newsletter. Of those 25%, we’ve converted half to buy more from us.” Good luck!

Tips for Fixing Email Template Code Problems [Infographic]

If you’ve ever developed an email before, you know that the coding doesn’t stop when your design looks good in the browser. In fact, it doesn’t stop when it looks good in every browser (FireFox, Chrome, Internet Explorer, and Safari). Let’s not forget too that the email also needs to look great on every device that could potentially render it. I’m talking about phones, tablets, iPods, and anything else that gets dreamed up. Professional email designs should only be approved after they have been thoroughly checked in every email client (Outlook, Lotus Notes, Gmail, etc.) on every device.

Why do you need to check it on every device and email client? Seems a little overkill, no?

The reason you need to do so much “checking” is because every combination of device, browser and email clients produces a different result. Meaning, they render the email differently. For example, Outlook supports stylizing the email in the tags, Gmail does not. Gmail supports vertical alignment of content, and Outlook does not. Margin is supported in Outlook in all versions except for their new cloud version Outlook.com. Minimum and maximum widths aren’t supported in Outlook but work great on Apple Mail and the iPhone/iPad. If you’re going to use heavy background images, you’ll get support from Outlook 2000 and 2003 but not Outlook 2007, 2010, or 2013. Click here for a useful chart.

Email Programming Tips and Tricks:

Below are some tips and tricks for coding emails taken from the infographic that Litmus, a leader in email testing and analytics, created for debugging common problems.

  • Media gets stripped from email and doesn’t work including: video, flash, rollovers, JavaScript, and forms.
  • Background images aren’t supported in Outlook versions 2007 or later. Don’t use.
  • Use absolute links over relative links to both images and website URLs.
  • Set your image borders to “0” if you’re seeing a blue border around them.
  • Choose a common image format such as GIF or JPG.
  • Remove gaps between images with the style tags line-spacing=”0″ and style=”display:block;”.
  • Pick a common font that your subscriber will have installed on their computer.
  • Hard code the heights and widths of every cell in a table to reflect the space you need it to take up. Redundancy is not a bat thing here.
  • Code your emails in <table> tags instead of <div> tags.
  • Remove spaces if you’ve tried everything else between elements.
  • Use align and valign on your <td> tags.

Code Therapy – Identifying What Went Wrong When Coding Your HTML Email Infographic

Infographic by: Litmus and can be found here.

Email Marketing Results, Best in 1st Hour [Infographic]

Every company, every industry, and even every department in a single company can have different results. If you want to truly want to know how to get the best from your marketing, then you need to make testing a priority. Don’t rely solely on industry best practices, but instead come up with your own. That being said, below is some interesting information for email marketers.

According research by GetResponse, a complete email marketing solution, emails have the highest open rates and click thru rates within the first hour of being delivered in the subscriber’s inbox. This is important because we know as marketers that the more people who see our email messages, the more will convert to paying customers.

The obvious next question is “How do I maximize that hour by choosing the right time to send it?” According to the infographic below, the top engagement times are 8 a.m to 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sending during these times could increase your open rate by as much as 6%.

That being said, there are other important questions to ask. “What are your competitors doing?” “What happens if everyone sends at 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.?” The research shows that 38.7% of all messages are sent between 6 a.m. and noon. If you want to reach your customers then maybe test out sending it in the afternoon before they head home for the day.

Best Time To Send Email [INFOGRAPHIC]

Best Time To Share

Infographic by GetResponse

 

3 Essential Emails to Send

Customers want to engage with brands they actively spend money with. This is apparent through rise of social media and the interaction with companies across all industries. Therefore, as your company’s marketing leader, it’s up to you to initiate those interactions and continue the conversation by always being front-and-center. A great tool for doing this in a non-invasive way is email. Most customers would gladly give up their email address and welcome transactional emails based on something they’ve done. It’s surprising however, that many small and some large companies are missing this opportunity. Here are 5 emails that you should be sending to your customers at minimum.


1) Thank You For Your Order
It doesn’t matter if your company provides products vs. services or is B2C vs. B2B, you should be sending your customers a “Thank You” any time you receive their businesses. This should go out at the appropriate time, consistently, and inform them that everything is on track.

2) Weekly/Monthly Newsletter
Help make your company more personal by sending out a regular newsletter email. Take content from your site or partner’s sites to ease the content creation burden. Let them know all of the changes you’re making to your company and how you’re doing. A little transparency can go a long way in deepening the relationship with them.

3) Special Discounts / Promotions Email
Everybody likes a great deal and many companies can leverage their engaged audience by throwing a great promotion out there. Target former customers or cross-sell your current customers in an attempt to drive up business and help them save some money. Note: Don’t abuse this media channel. Email recipients have a low tolerance for anything resembling a “spam” email. Make sure your promotions are highly valuable to the recipients.


If you’re not doing any email marketing today then it’s probably time to start. Throw a registration/contact form up on your website and start pulling together every email you have. Look into some cheap email service providers that connect to your CRM. In many cases you can automate some of these emails with a little configuration in the beginning. Start now, because you can assume that even if you’re not contacting your customers, your competitors probably are.

Bonus Email Ideas:

  • You Might Also Like (Other Products/Services)
  • We Haven’t Heard From You In a While
  • Happy Birthday
  • It’s Renewal Time
  • Please Update Your Contact Information
  • Last Chance – We’re Taking You Off Our List

Interesting Marketing Trends of Small Businesses [Infographic]

Small businesses face challenges of small budgets and scarce resources, causing them to be even more selective of their decisions in growing their top line. They often don’t have the luxury of celebrity sponsorship or mass media ads such as Super Bowl commercials. Small businesses therefore test, pivot, and analyze to recognize where their dollars would be best spent. They execute outbound and inbound marketing strategies until they find one that hits it big.

Bolt Insurance Agency compiled an interesting infographic that compiles research and data from Constant Contact, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, e-Dialog, ExactTarget, and the U.S. Postal Service. This infographic outlines some of the tactics and observations that help small businesses advertise.

What are the most used marketing tactics used by small businesses?

  1. Website Marketing
  2. Email Marketing
  3. Print Advertising
  4. Social Media
  5. Online Advertising
  6. Event Marketing

What are the most used social media sites used by small businesses?

  1. Facebook
  2. YouTube
  3. Twitter & LinkedIn (Tie)

Other interesting facts pulled from the infographic:

  • 67% of customers give their email addresses to companies to receive discounts and promotions.
  • 57% of customers say they are more apt to buy a product in a store after receiving an email.
  • 52% of small businesses are challenged to get current customers to refer new business.
  • 80% of small businesses are challenged to attract new customers.
  • 36% of small businesses think consumers value direct mail.
  • 65% of Millennials prefer to read something on paper.

View the Small Business, Big Impact marketing infographic below:

Via: Bolt Insurance

Increase Your Email Marketing Effectiveness

As an email marketer, I’m constantly looking for ways to achieve an increase in effectiveness of the emails I’m sending on behalf of myself and clients. Even a 1% increase in click rate could equate to 1,000+ individuals for some large blasts. By influencing those extra people and engaging them to click and engage with the content, the chance that they make a purchase goes up significantly. Without action there is no ROI to measure. They are a meaningless subscribe. If they open however, one can attribute that back to influence and transactions.

Below are 5 tips for increasing your effectiveness in emails:

  1. Clean your list up front. Many marketers gather whatever emails they can find and start blasting them out, and then are surprised when they have low engagement. I always ask, “How did you get that email address?” Most likely the person ‘found’ it or grabbed it from a transaction in their system. If you ask the person permission outright or allow them to subscribe themselves on your site, your contacts will me much more engaged in the future.
  2. Write a great subject line. Keep it short and simple. Let them know what’s in the email with a quick call-to-action of what you want them to do. It’s so easy to hit that “delete” button and move on to the next item in their inbox. What can you say to make them stop, even if just for a second.
  3. Be a familiar From Address.  If your sales rep normally has a relationship with the person on the other end of that email, make it come from them. It’s easy to customize the From Address of emails with the help of advanced email service providers. Use email technology as a way to build retention and a relationship. If the subscriber doesn’t remember who you are, you’re not going to get through.
  4. Manage your IP reputation. Internet Service Providers such as Gmail, Yahoo, etc. have purposefully installed automatic filters that block emails from unknown or blacklisted senders. If you have a private IP address dedicated to your brand’s email sends, protect it. Don’t buy lists and send massive email blasts. Monitor your SPAM complaints and unsubscribe everyone who asks. You likely only have one shot to make a positive impression.
  5. Test test test. Just because something works for one company doesn’t mean it won’t work for you. The opposite is also true. Find out what works best for your list, on your schedule, with your content. Develop a 50/50 AB test where you send half of your list one subject line and the other list a different subject line. What worked better? Now test the From Address. Now test the From Name. Now test the day of week. Now test the time of day. Build a list of best practices and continue to modify.

Email marketing is effective because it’s highly measurable. You’ll be able to know exactly how many people opened, clicked, bounced, and unsubscribed. Use this data to develop a strategy for getting through to your customer. Always ask, how can I add value to their inbox?