The news of email marketing’s demise is premature.
A wide majority of Americans still check their email on a daily basis, and email engagement rates are vastly higher than that of social media—which means it’s actually the superior content distribution channel (to the chagrin of marketers who invested heavily in social).
In other words, if your email marketing efforts aren’t delivering the results you want, the blame lies with you.
But cheer up! There are lots of proven tactics for increasing email effectiveness—many of which we’ll cover in this comprehensive guide. But before diving in, let’s learn why email effectiveness is so important.
The Benefits of Effective Emails
Email marketing is still a highly relevant marketing channel, because everyone still uses email.
In fact, they’re using it more than ever.
So if you’re able to effectively communicate with this highly engaged audience, the rewards are vast. Here are some of the benefits that come with getting email marketing right:
- Reach a highly targeted audience: If a user opted to receive your emails, chances are they have some level of interest in your product or service. By sending them effective emails, you build credibility, and bring them that much closer to a sale.
- Build brand recognition: Even if a user has no intention of buying anything from you, sending them effective emails, including information they find valuable, can foster brand affinity.
- Retain customers: Once a lead has converted into a customer, sending them effective emails helps your brand stay top of mind.
- Efficient: As far as marketing methods go, email is one of the lowest cost, least time-consuming tactics you can use to engage with customers on a regular basis.
- Promote content: If you have great content that you want your audience to see, sending it directly to their email inbox is one of the most surefire ways to guarantee that happens.
21 Ways to Improve Email Effectiveness
There are plenty of ways to identify opportunities in your email marketing strategy and make improvements. Our recommendations are based on conversations with highly effective email marketers. While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, we feel there are at least a handful of tactics here that can help your brand.
1. Improve Email Content
Seems pretty obvious, right?
But you’d be surprised by how many marketers don’t put the time in to create personalized, engaging emails. And if your email copy isn’t great, you’re never going to get the results you want, no matter how many email hacks you try.
So before crafting your email copy, consider what information would be most relevant to your subscribers. What would provide them with value, or help them solve a problem?
Remember, email marketing is just another form of content marketing. And the end-goal should always be to serve the reader.
“Your email should be simple, human, and provide the reader with a solution to their problem,” says Dale Johnson, Content Strategist at Nomad Paradise. “Don’t over complicate things. So many marketers do. Just get right to the point.”
Also keep in mind where your subscriber is in your email funnel when crafting your copy. Don't send a warmly written message to a cold prospect, and don’t send a coldly written message to a warm prospect that already knows your brand.
2. Track Open Rate
Open rate is a simple metric that can provide useful insights. This is simply the percentage of email recipients who decided to open your email. It can tell you if your email subject line is compelling or if readers are excited to receive an email from your brand.
“If you can improve your open rate, you have won half the battle and can then work on delivering value to your reader and converting their attention into conversions for your business,” says Jessica Rose, CEO at Copper H2O. “In our experience, increasing open rates by 20% can have a corresponding increase on conversions.”
Every email marketer should track open rate. However, taken alone, it doesn’t provide a complete picture of email effectiveness. To come to a clearer understanding, you need to consider open rate alongside a handful of other metrics, including...
3. Track Click-Through Rate (CTR)
CTR is the percentage of email recipients who clicked through from your email to your website.
“Our business looks at open rates and click rates,” says Jeff Moriarty, Marketing Manager at Moriarty’s Gem Art. “This helps tell us if we are sending to the right segment/audience and if the format/content of the email was strong enough to get them to click through. These two factors are also tested heavily through different subject lines, different sent times, different audiences and even different content.”
When looking at CTR, it’s important to take note of which elements within your email generate the highest CTR. This can help inform you of how to structure your emails for maximum engagement.
“You’d be surprised at how many clicks in newsletters are on minor, seemingly random links or elements in the email—like links to the site menu or search page in the footer of an email,” says Andrew Maule, Digital Marketing Manager at ReliaSite. “You need to track this or you’ll never know. But once you do know what’s working, you can begin to design your emails and marketing around these insights and better optimize for conversions.”
4. A/B Test Subject Lines
Subject lines are the first touchpoint subscribers have with your email—so they better be effective.
Like your email copy, your subject line should be personalized and highly relevant—while also being simple and to-the-point. If you can invoke immediacy or build excitement, even better.
But this is no small feat.
That’s why so many marketers rely on A/B testing.
In email marketing, A/B testing is when you send out two different versions of a subject line and track engagement on which copy resonates more with your target audience.
The results will provide you with valuable insight into how to speak to your audience.
“I’m always thinking about how our subject lines will impact open rates,” says Ariana Burton, VP of Marketing at Pashion Footwear. “We’re constantly A/B testing different subject line options within different segmented groups of contacts and then tracking what sort of effect it has on open rate, CTR, etc.”
5. Test CTAs
A/B testing doesn’t just have to be for email subject lines. You can also test the effectiveness of your calls to action (CTAs) through an A/B test.
To do so, include multiple CTAs to the same landing page in your email using different language for each. Then track which link has a higher CTR. This will show you what type of messaging compels your readers to learn more about your product or service.
6. Measure Website Traffic From Email
If you’re looking to pinpoint exactly how persuasive your CTAs are, you’d do well to track website traffic from email.
By analyzing how much of your traffic comes from email, you can determine if it’s delivering the results you need to generate a positive ROI. What’s more, finding website traffic from email can be set up easily.
7. Measure Bounce Rate from Email
Website traffic from email doesn’t paint a complete picture. If people are clicking-through only to leave your site right away (i.e. “bouncing), it reveals that your CTA is misleading, or your messaging and your landing page don’t align.
“CTR is important, but it can be a vanity metric if people who click through bounce right away,” says Neal Taparia, CEO at Solitaired.
8. Find Average Time on Site from Email
Building off traffic and bounce rate, a third metric that provides insight into your CTR and CTAs is the average time on page that a user who clicks through to your website spends.
A longer time spent on site indicates that the user is engaging and building affinity with your brand. The best way to drive this metric up is to create curiosity from your CTAs, and then deliver on that promise with a high quality experience once the user reaches your landing page.
“On-site metrics mean so much to us when measuring email effectiveness,” says Adelina Karpenkova, Content Marketing Manager at Joinative Native Ads. “If some emails generate less traffic but have lower bounce rates and better time on site, this means we’re on the right track, and might just need to A/B test the subject line a bit more.”
9. Track Email Engagement Rate
If you’re not focused on CTR or conversions, but rather building trust and affinity with your subscribers, it may be useful for you to track email engagement rate. This is a measure of how often subscribers are replying to your emails, or sharing them with their networks.
“Our number one metric is actually reply rate,” says Kevin Geary, CEO of Digital Gravy. “That’s because we craft emails to generate conversations instead of conversions. Thus, when we’re doing email marketing, we grade our emails and campaigns on the reply rate because we consistently see higher reply rates equaling higher revenue.”
10. Track Spam Complaints
If people are marking your messages as spam, this means you’re not providing them with value, or your messaging is irrelevant.
It’s important to keep a close eye on this metric, as a high amount of spam complaints can cannibalize your email list and foster negative sentiment towards your brand.
11. Be Wary of Email Fatigue
One mistake a lot of marketers make is sending too many emails.
Your subscribers don’t want to be bothered all the time. Many are quite protective of what they allow in their inbox (I know I am). If your email cadence is too high, you might start seeing lower open rates and CTRs, and increased unsubscribes.
12. Track Email List Growth Rate
If your emails are effective, your current subscribers will share your emails, and your email subscriber list should grow.
To find out if your email subscriber list is growing, you need to subtract the number of people who have unsubscribed over a given time period by the number of people who have subscribed, and then divide that number by your overall subscriber count. Multiply that number by 100, and you have your email list growth rate.
(New Subscribers - Unsubscribers) / Total Email List Subscribers x 100.
13. Weed Out Subscribers
Some subscribers aren’t interested in receiving your emails anymore, but—for whatever reason—never actually unsubscribe.
These types of subscribers will also drive down open rates and CTRs. Therefore, it’s important to track who is opening and engaging with your emails, and who isn’t. If you have dead weight on your email list, don’t be afraid to remove them.
“We have a system in place where, if subscribers don’t open their email three times in a row, we scale back our emails to them so that we’ll become more of a novelty in their inbox,” explains Brett Downes, Founder of HaroHelpers. “If no interactions occur over 10 emails or 12 months, we send them an unsubscribe email, with options where they can select what type of emails to receive and how often. This proffers a much better engagement rate as they have set the rules that work for them.”
14. Resend Unopened Emails
Sometimes people simply forget to open your email.
In some cases, you shouldn’t be afraid to resend some emails from time to time—especially to subscribers who typically have high open rates.
“Target a specific segment of loyal subscribers who have not opened a particular email you sent, and change the subject line or header text, then resend it,” says Maule. “You can do this several times, and each time you resend, the segment you send to should keep getting smaller as more and more open the email. But be sure to pace resend campaigns and limit them to once a week.”
15. Send at the Right Time
Another way to bolster email effectiveness is by making sure you send emails at a time when your audience is most likely to open them.
According to research by CoSchedule, the best time to send out emails is usually in the mornings on weekdays between 9 AM and 11 AM. However, the perfect time can differ depending on the audience you’re targeting.
16. Segment Email Lists
Segmenting your email subscriber lists ensures that your subscribers receive personalized information that is relevant and valuable to them.
To segment, you need to offer subscribers an email preference center with multiple email list options, and detail what kind of content they will receive if they subscribe.
“Creating and using customer segments increases the relevancy of emails which generally improves all KPIs,” says Bruce Hogan, CEO at SoftwarePundit. “More recipients open and click the email, and less unsubscribe.”
17. Play With The Email Layout
Sometimes the content of the email isn’t the issue—it’s the way it appears on your subscriber’s device.
If your email layout is hard to look at, or isn’t responsive on mobile, subscribers might not bother trying to read it. That’s why you need to create an on-brand design and test it in multiple formats to ensure it’s visually appealing.
“Since most people are reading emails on mobile, I am constantly working to chunk/segment info in the emails so that they are readable without being overwhelming,” says Lucy Kelly, CEO at Bel Monilli.
“Try something called seed list testing,” adds Tom Pelisson, Partner Manager at Rejoiner Inc. “This test will show you how your email looks in different email clients (i.e., Gmail app, Yahoo!, Hotmail), in different browsers, and on different devices. This test helps you identify any authentication or spam filter issues that would hurt your sender reputation and cause even more deliverability headaches if you sent emails to your entire list with those problems.”
18. Track Email Conversion Rate
We’ve been building to this one for a while.
When it comes right down to it, the goal of your email marketing efforts is to generate new leads and eventually convert them into customers. Conversion rate is one of the most straightforward ways to find out if this is happening.
It distills all the data from your CTR, CTA effectiveness, subject line effectiveness, website traffic, website bounce rate, email engagement rates, and more into one all-encompassing metric.
“Conversion rate is all that matters in the end,” says Paul Ronto, CMO at RunRepeat. “You can have great open rates and amazing click rates, but if no one is converting your business will fail. So once you get them to your email, you have to find a way to prove your value and convert.”
Don’t be fooled though. If your conversion rate isn’t where you want it to be, you need to dive back into your other metrics to try and diagnose the problem.
“An effective email funnel doesn’t start by optimizing for conversions,” says Alex Kehoe, Operations Manager at Caveni Digital Solutions. “You need to get the best stats possible from your open rate and CTR before you worry about how many are actually converting. If these metrics are poor, there'll be nobody to convert.”
19. Email Marketing ROI
ROI is the measure of how much revenue your email marketing campaigns generate. It tells you not only if your email marketing is working, but if it’s worth the effort you’re putting into it.
If you're getting a lot of conversions from email, but it’s costing you a lot of time and money to do so, you’re ROI might not be as high as you think. Ultimately, it’s about finding that happy medium between input and results.
20. Change One Thing at a Time
Increasing email effectiveness is all about experimentation. And as with any good experiment, you can’t change more than one thing at a time.
So if you’re going to A/B test subject lines, don’t also change email content. If you’re going to change your CTA, don’t adjust the landing page.
Otherwise, how would you know if what you changed worked?
21. Always Be Testing
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—the essence of good marketing is testing.
Even if your email marketing efforts are working, you need to keep testing new ways to improve. If you get complacent, your subscribers will tire of reading your content and unsubscribe from your list.
“Optimizing an email campaign takes some time and testing,” says Dan Gower, Owner of Buddy Gardner Advertising. “Your first goal should be to find something that works. Then test it until you’ve perfected every little detail. Then test it some more.”
Knotch Can Help Improve Email Effectiveness
Knotch is the Content Intelligence Platform that allows brands to optimize their content across all owned and paid channels, including email.
Knotch for Email makes it possible to measure sentiment of your email marketing efforts and gather actionable insights directly from subscribers so that you can create the most effective emails possible.
With Knotch for Email, you can collect quantitative and qualitative data from all your email communications to give you the full picture of how your audience feels about your email content.
That means you don’t just get hard data like CTR and open rate, but also direct feedback from subscribers on what they liked and disliked about your email. With this information in hand, you can make changes in real-time that will deliver high-impact results.