Publishing an email newsletter is almost like birthing a baby. (Okay, perhaps that’s overstating the case.)
Still, a considerable amount of time and effort goes into giving birth to the finished product, and you want everyone to know about it when it’s done.
More importantly, you want everyone to open and read the newsletter. The problem is that, in most cases, the recipients are not nearly as excited about it as you.
When open and click-through rates (CTR) are high, you feel a sense of pride and satisfaction knowing that people benefit from your work.
What happens when CTRs are low? How do you get list members to take a greater degree of interest? These ten practical tips will help improve your rates no matter whether they are high or low.
1. Get It Opened
In order to improve click-through rates, you must first get your email opened. Sounds obvious, but that’s a challenge in and of itself. These tips can help:
Have a recognizable sender name.
Make sure the sender name (also called “from name”) is one that your list members will recognize. Use it consistently, so that name recognition builds over time.
Experiment with subject lines.
The subject line is the one thing that will make or break whether someone opens your email or not. You have only seconds to capture his or her attention, so there is a lot riding on the verbiage used.
Email sending platform provider MailChimp conducted a study that analyzed the open rates for over 200 million emails. Open rates ranged from 93% down to a dismal 0.5%. The study found the best email subject lines are short, descriptive and provide the reader with a reason to explore your message further.
Using splashy or cheesy phrases to try to stand out more often results in your email being ignored, said MailChimp. The lesson: keep subject lines simple, short and to the point.
MailChimp offers this piece of advice, as well: “Your subject line should (drum roll please) describe the subject of your email.”
Personalize your message.
An article in Practical Ecommerce reported on two studies – on from email service provider MailerMailer and another from GetResponse – that both showed personalized subject lines resulted in lifts in open rates.
Personalization shouldn’t stop with the subject line, however; include it in the message body. Add a salutation that uses the person’s first name. Insert the name again later, and include other pertinent information such as company name, location, or job title, if that data is available.
The better you segment messages to target specific audiences, the more likely they are to be opened. That’s assuming, of course, that the message has relevance to a particular segment being mailed to.
Speaking of relevance, find out what your subscribers want and give it to them. Provide list members with useful information, and they will thank you for it in the form of increased open and click-through rates.
Send the message at the right time.
“Open rates can vary dramatically depending on what time of day and what day of the week the emails are sent,” said email marketing expert Pamela Neely writing for Web Marketing Today.
What is the best time to send a mailing? It depends. One might work for one industry or business won’t work for another.
This graphic from MarketingSherpa may provide some guidelines, but the only way you’re really going to know what’s “best” for you is to test.
Send with the right frequency.
“One of the most common symptoms of an over-mailed list is a weak open rate,” said Neely. “List fatigue is a sticky problem that requires a series of changes to fix, but one of the best places to start is by mailing less often.”
The answer to how many times you should send to a list is the same as the one for the best time to send – it depends. Again, you’re going to have to test, and then watch the reports for drop-offs in opens and click-throughs.
Use double opt-in.
Neely suggested that signing people up for an email list with single opt-in versus a double opt-in can have a huge effect on open rates, even months after people have subscribed.
“Double opt-in (sometimes called ‘confirmed opt-in,’ where subscribers have to confirm their email address before they’re subscribed) ends up being well named,” said Neely. “Using a double opt-in can, well, almost double open rates.”
Now that you’ve got your email opened, here are some tips for increasing the CTR.
2. Simplify Your Email
Simplifying your email newsletter may be one way. A case study from MarketingSherpa sheds light on how simplification can help:
Hammock is a B2B company focused on creating marketing content and media for its customers. The company realized that subscribers were experiencing email fatigue, and knew its newsletter was part of the problem.
The team did an about face and turned the traditional, content-heavy email newsletter into what they refer to as an “un-newsletter” that provides subscribers with just one helpful marketing idea, alongside suggestions of how to best utilize that idea.
The team simplified email content and design in order to make it a more helpful, less crowded newsletter. Hammock refers to it as the “Idea Email: One bright idea, every two weeks.”
3. Create One Clear Call To Action (CTA)
Multiple CTAs only serve to confuse people. If the goal is to get someone to take a particular action, don’t obfuscate things by including other options. Give people too many choices and they may do nothing at all.
Marketing resource site MarketingProfs says a CTA should make clear for the reader.
- What is expected of him
- Where the CTA will take him
- Why he has to go there
The best CTAs answer those three questions, using as few words as possible:
- Contact us.
- Apply now.
- Sign up now.
- Create an account.
4. Test and Refine
This is a favorite saying of Bizzuka CEO John Munsell. The only way you’re going to be able to tell the difference between what works and what doesn’t is to “test and refine, test and refine.”
One of the best ways to accomplish that is through a technique called A/B Split Testing.
According to Optimizely, a website optimization company, A/B testing is a “simple way to test changes to your page against the current design and determine which ones produce positive results. It is a method to validate that any new design or change to an element on your webpage is improving your conversion rate before you make that change to your site code.”
Tests could include different times when the email is sent, different subject lines, calls to action, images, message copy, and so forth. The key is to test only one thing at a time. In other words, don’t both test the subject line and call to action. You’ll never know which was the catalyst that improved performance.
Bizzuka’s email marketing platform, Soundoff, supports A/B split testing. You can send two different sender names, different sender emails, subject lines or different email content.
You set the percentage of list members who will receive version A and the percentage who will receive version B. Soundoff then determines which of the two has the highest open and CTRs, and sends the winner to the remainder of the list.
5. Include the Call To Action Multiple Times
Even though you don’t want to use multiple calls to action, you do want to use the single call to action multiple times. In other words, don’t make your subscribers read all the way through the email before hitting them with the CTA.
Offer it early in the email, somewhere in the middle and again at the end. You can even include a postscript (PS) to remind them one more time.
Vary the methods used. A hyperlink embedded is body copy, a call to action button, or a direct exclamatory call to action.
MailChimp says it’s best not to use “click here” as click-through text. Many people won’t click because it gives them no indication of where the link will take them. It’s better to make the link as descriptive and concise as possible.
6. Create a Sense of Urgency
You know the old saying: there is no time like the present. That’s especially true of email. Chances are, once the person opens the email, he or she will take action at that point rather than later. Do something to create a sense of urgency and incite them to take action now.
7. Provide Incentives
Everyone’s favorite radio station is WII-FM, which stands for “What’s In It For Me?”
Some people will take action because they like you, believe in your mission, or feel a sense of obligation. Most need some form of incentive to do so, however.
For retail and B2C companies, incentives are easier to come by. They could include product discounts, limited time offers, and free trials. B2B companies may experience a tougher time. In that case, offering free downloads of an ebook, white paper, report or infographic is a good substitute.
8. Add Some Personality
One of the simplest, least expensive ways to increase your open and click-through rate is to give your newsletter a distinctive personality, said marketing resource site ClickZ. A good first step is adding a brief opening at the top, a personal note from the editor that pulls your reader in and builds a relationship.
“Include a feature, a benefit, and an advantage in the opening. This needs to be used in a subtle way, but in the opening you’re really doing a small marketing job for this issue of your email newsletter,” said the article.
9. Make the Body Copy Chunky
No one reads online, especially paragraphs that exceed more than two or three lines. Beyond that, it becomes a wall of words.
Better to make your body copy “chunky.” Short paragraphs, use of bolded words, numbered and bulleted lists all make the copy easier to read. If it’s easy to read, chances are I’ll take action. Give me a wall of words and that won’t happen.
10. Make it Mobile Optimized
According to one source, mobile email will account for 15 to 70% of email opens, depending on your target audience, product and email type. In addition, 90% of smartphone owners access the same email account on mobile and desktop.
Those statistics should be enough to convince you to optimize your email for mobile. That includes using both plain text and HTML versions. Otherwise, you’re going to lose out on opens and click-throughs.