Email is a fickle beast.
Sometimes the change of one word in a subject line can be the difference between soaring open rates and an email being instantly deleted.
While some may consider email marketing a dated form of content marketing, for us it is one of the biggest drivers to our website, especially as a tool for promoting ebooks and downloads. When we all have our smartphones surgically attached to our hands, we are never more than a few seconds away from checking our email (which is probably why email open rates have climbed since 2007).
But checking our email is one thing. How often do we open an email purely just to get rid of that annoying red notification blob, or that frustrating (1) you can’t ignore in the corner of your browser window?
Newscred’s webinar “How To Crush Content Marketing Through Newsletters, Nurturing, And Retargeting” addresses this by pointing out that opens are not really an interaction at all, and shouldn’t be considered engagement.
While this is definitely true, and I will discuss this later, the reality is you can’t get someone to click your link if they haven’t even opened your email. It could be the most perfect link for them in the world, but if your email doesn’t stand out among the hundreds of other emails in their inbox you’ve missed out.
Why email needs the personal touch
Traditionally, emails from companies have come from the company name. That makes sense, doesn’t it? If you sign up for the Amazon mailing list, you expect the emails you receive to be from Amazon.
But when our inboxes are stuffed full of sales emails, a personal name can stand out among brand names.
I tested this a few weeks ago. Axonn’s emails all come from me - Charlotte Crowley - so as an experiment I set them to come from Axonn. I should have know this wasn’t going to be a success when the colleague I asked to check my test said he hadn’t even noticed the email pop into his inbox.
I also notice I get more responses to my emails if they come from me, rather than Axonn. This simple change builds connection and allows people to feel they know the actual people at Axonn, not a faceless marketing team.
But it’s not just open rate - Hubspot tested this back in 2011 and found that using a real person’s sender name increased not only open rate, but also click through rate. So it’s a win-win.
Timing is everything
We’ve recently started to use MailChimp, and I really like their scheduling feature which calculates the optimum sending time of an email based on the list you’re sending to. I use this a lot to try to maximise my email open rates and clicks.
However, it’s not foolproof.
I spent an inordinate amount of time a few weeks ago putting together this lovely end-of-year email with all our best content from 2015. Lots of links, great content, strong subject line. Then I asked MailChimp to send it out at the optimum time.
Unfortunately for me, that time was 9am.
And of course, the open rate was alright, as people sleepily trudged through the morning’s full inbox. But naturally, click through rate was terrible. Who is going to click on an email with 10+ links in at 9am?
So I’ve learned my lesson that sometimes it doesn’t always help to trust a machine. While a good open rate is positive, click through rate is a much more important factor, and here’s why...
Why open rate means (practically) nothing
As Newscred pointed out in their webinar, there is far too much value placed on open rate. Sure, open rate is great. As I mentioned above, I send emails with my name as the sender name to increase the open rate - nobody can click a link in an email they haven’t opened - but getting them to open the email is only half the battle.
What Newscred suggest should be the guiding factor is click-to-open rate - the ratio of people who clicked after opening your email, or click rate alone. So your focus in email creation should be on the content of your email, and enticing the recipient enough to get them to actually click through to your link. Your email should be a teaser trailer for the goods - and your recipient will either be interested or they won’t.
I can’t emphasise the importance of testing enough. I am always changing up how we do things with email. To try to increase click through rate I decided last year to send an email to promote every piece of content we produced at Axonn, rather than a weekly newsletter.
After I found this was actually having a negative effect on results, I switched up the newsletter style and went back to that. For us, a newsletter-style email works because if our focus is on CTR, using lots of different content in one email hopefully means there’s something for (almost) anyone.
What’s next in 2016?
Two big trends for 2016 are segmentation and more personalisation. We can all do “Hi (first name)” but marketers are going further, with personalising subject lines and other content in their emails. Segmentation too, is focusing even more on giving the customer what they want, and using data collected to give them their most personalised email, and ensuring the right people receive the right email for their needs.
Email marketing is no longer new, but that does not mean it can’t still be effective when done right. As with any other form of content marketing, email need to be planned, strategised, assessed and updated and always, always be testing.