Email Marketing: Where’s the Email Rule Book?
Email marketing has one of the highest returns on investment (if not the highest) of any marketing tactic. It’s important for Business-to-Consumer and Business-to-Business companies. So we must have an email marketing rulebook, right? No, there’s not one. Email campaigns perform differently with different audiences, voices, products, services and more.
What does this mean to you?
This means that while you can use tips and good rules of thumb, you HAVE TO test to get the most out of your email marketing campaign. You can review the best performing email campaigns, but if it doesn’t work for your company, brand, voice or audience, it doesn’t matter.
What are a few tips for testing your email marketing campaign?
The subject line is the most important determinant of the email being opened. Start there! A few tips for subject lines are
1. Keep it short,
2. Make it interesting,
3. Make it relevant,
4. Use curiosity, and
5. Match it to your content and call to action.
[click here for a list of sample subject lines]
You should always test just one item at a time. Otherwise, it’s hard to identify what really made the change in open rates, click rates, etc.
Monitor your results and test. Make sure you are tracking good data points. Not sure which metrics to use? Check out these [email metrics to track.]
Test a large enough group. You need to be able to test a subset of your list to determine the winner. The winner will then be used to send to the majority of your list. Your subset has to be big enough to make sure you can identify a true winner.
Keep testing and monitoring. Testing isn’t just a one and done kind of thing. Testing should be happening all the time.
What elements should you test in your email marketing campaign?
- Subject line
- Sender (name and email)
- Time and day
- Plain text vs. HTML rich
- Long copy vs. short
- Links vs. buttons
- Colors and style
- Calls to action
- Landing pages
We already talked about the subject line. That’s usually the best bang for your buck in terms of open rate. But that is just one element.
From name (sender) and from email should be tested. You may be surprised out how much of a difference this makes to open rates. Usually, names work better than departments. Try both male and female names.
The time of day and day of week impacts open rate and click-through rate. See what is best for your particular audience by testing. Again, make sure you are not testing something else at the time you are testing day and time. If you have marketing automation, you may consider sending based on behavior instead (i.e. after they open an email, send within 1 hour).
The great debate of plain text vs. HTML rich with images. Keeping deliverability constant (check our article on what you should do to increase deliverability), plain text significantly outperformed HTML emails. In addition, the more HTML rich an email was, the lower its open rate. How can this possibly be true knowing we love images? It seems contrary to everything we are seeing. According to Hubspot, they sited that emails that look more personal have higher open and click rates. Think of emails you receive from friends. They aren’t HTML rich, they are plain text.
Some email lists and products require longer emails and some shorter. You can test this out and test out additional content. My shorter emails typically have better engagement (no reader fatigue), but I have had a few longer emails perform extremely well.
If you include links in your email, you should test whether a plain link, a hyperlinked anchor text or a button work best. The majority of the time buttons have worked best for me. I have used all colors and most of the time red works best for me. But again, test it. You may get different results.
Personalization means including the person’s name or specifics about the person in the email. You could include data you gathered such as name, location, product/service they are interested in or bought in the past, or other specific information. You can use personalization in the subject line or in the email. Personalization performed extremely well in the past. But I find that it still increases engagement even though it’s not nearly as effective as it used to be.
Colors and the style of the email are important. The look and feel of the email matters. Test out different versions of emails to test color and style.
Calls to action can be in the form of buttons, links, etc. Calls to action tell the email recipient what you want them to do that usually involves clicking on something. You can test the verbiage, the style, and the placement. Also, refer back to the testing of links and buttons.
Where are you sending your links to? Most likely, you are sending any clickable links to landing pages. Don’t forget about testing these. Testing just the number of clicks only tells you how effective the copy and calls to action are. You will want to test the landing pages to see how to increase conversion. Landing pages, like emails, have many different elements to test (headline, colors, style, form, etc.).
When I say voice, I’m not really talking about what comes out of your mouth. I am talking about the tone. Is it formal or casual? Is it highly technical or general? Many companies follow a more formal tone because they think they have to. You should test it out and see what works for your target audience. But the key is to identify it and then stick with it (although you can make some pieces more informal as the subject matter permits).