The daily tasks of a busy email marketer can leave little time for optimization. When you finally get the time to optimize your email metrics, you want to make it count. There’s nothing more frustrating than investing hours into a complicated split test, only to find that the results weren't meaningful.
That’s why you want to focus your optimization efforts on small tweaks that make a measurable difference. We’ve pulled together five of the best here.
1. Split test more than just subject lines to maximize your email marketing open rates
There are 7 core factors that impact your email open rates:
- The customer’s attitude toward previous email marketing they’ve received from you
- The customer’s overall attitude toward your brand
- Subject line
- Preview text/preheader
- Sender name
- Inbox sorting (whether your email goes to Promotions, Updates, or Spam)
- Email deliverability and whether you have a good sender reputation
As an email marketer, factor #3 (Subject line), #4 (Preview text), and #5 (Sender name) are directly within your control. They’re the best place to start optimizing your email metrics.
Most email marketers know that your subject line has a huge impact on your open rates.
But surprisingly, there’s no cheat sheet for a winning subject line. What captures the attention of your unique audience may be totally different than the email marketing strategies that work for someone else.
The subject line worth $2.5 million
Here are five actual subject lines tested by Obama’s fundraising team during the former US President’s 2012 campaign. Can you guess which one of these tests captured the highest average donation?
- Would love to meet you
- Michelle time
- The one thing the polls got right…
- I will be outspent
- Some scary numbers
According to Obama’s team, the winning subject line was ‘I will be outspent’. Surprised? Me too. But there are a few reasons why this subject line works. It's intriguing, original, unexpected... and just plain weird! And that’s probably why it works.
Without split testing the fundraising team would have never stumbled across this 2.5 million dollar subject line.
So test, and keep testing your subject lines to build up your marketing data on what works. (We’ll share some tips on testing best practices later on in this article.)
But don’t stop there.
Preview text (often called the preheader) and the sender name of your emails can also have a big impact on your open rates.
Autoplicity were able to boost open rates by 8% by split testing different preview text variations until they found one that worked.
But there’s one optimization that can have an even bigger impact - optimizing your sender name.
42% of people say that the first thing they look at when deciding to open an email is the sender name, compared to 34% who look at subject lines, and 24% who look at preview text (source).
Split-testing different sender names can yield surprisingly impactful results
For example, some companies find they achieve significantly higher open rates when emails are sent using the company CEO’s name as the sender name (e.g. Mary Barra) rather than using the company name (General Motors). For other companies, the opposite may be true. The only way to know what will work for your company is to test!
If you haven’t yet, it’s clear that it’s worth split-testing your subject lines, preview text, and your sender names to achieve the best possible campaign performance.
But how do you split test a one-off campaign?
If your subscriber list is large enough, a common practice is to select a few sample groups to serve as a testbed for your campaigns.
For example, for a campaign destined for a subscriber list of 5,000 people, you might create three different subgroups of 500 subscribers, who each receive a different variant of the campaign.
Here's how this might look in practice:
- Group 1 - 500 subscribers - Sender namer: Tash Postolovski
- Group 2 - 500 subscribers - Sender name: Tash from Animately
- Group 3 - 500 subscribers - Sender namer: Animately
Once you identify the best performing variant from this initial round of testing, you can then send this variant to the rest of your subscribers.
There are a couple of principles that will make it much easier to draw accurate and conclusive results from your split tests.
- Use randomly selected groups. By randomly selecting subscribers from your audience you eliminate the possibility that differences between your subscriber groups could skew your results. For example, if you built your groups by splitting on date subscribed, one group might overrepresent less engaged subscribers that joined your list during a free giveaway campaign. This factor will make all tests using this group look worse.
- Test one change at a time. While it might seem efficient to save time by cramming several tests into a single campaign, doing this can make it very difficult to identify which of the changes produced positive or negative results.
2. Reduce email load times to improve email marketing metrics
This eye-opening statistic from Litmus will change how you view email load times forever.
Across a sample of 4 million opens, 51% of recipients decided to delete the email within just 2 seconds.
That’s why it’s essential that your emails are fully loaded and ready to view as soon as possible, ideally much quicker than 2 seconds.
What causes long email load times?
The most common culprits leading to long email load times are bloated, uncompressed images that can take up to several seconds to load.
Make sure to run your static image assets through an app like ImageOptim for Mac or Caesium Image Compressor for Windows to reduce their file size as much as possible, and in doing so, speed up email load times.
For marketing GIFs, you can use Animately to reduce GIF file size. By reducing the file-size of your GIFs and static images, you’ll speed up the loading time of your email and, ultimately, increase your click through rate.
3. Sell the click, not the product to maximize click through rate
This mindset shift can lead to a dramatic improvement in your click through rate.
Sell the click (and the page behind the click), not the product
Many email marketers try to “sell the product” in their emails. This leads to long-winded emails with a call to action that requires a big commitment from the subscriber.
Buy this product. Sign up now. Take this 20 minute survey.
The challenge is that email is one of the worst places to get subscribers to make a big decision.
Email subscribers are ready to click, but not necessarily ready to buy
It’s the job of your website or landing page to actually close the sale.
Instead of CTAs that sell, encourage your email subscribers to make a softer commitment or expression of interest first, then sell the product afterward to improve email marketing metrics.
MECLABS used this strategy to increase conversion for their client by 103%. They replaced a big commitment CTA (register immediately to attend a multi-day event) with a smaller commitment (watch a video preview of the event). This immediately improved their click through rate.
Although this example was taken from the world of PPC advertising, the same principles apply to email marketing.
"Sell the click" examples
- Replace a ‘Buy it now’ CTA with ‘See your hand-selected deals’
- Replace a ‘Join course now’ CTA with ‘See more of our successful students’
- Replace an ‘Add to bag’ CTA with a ‘Try it on’ CTA, which takes the subscriber to a virtual try-on experience
Instead of the typical ‘Start your free trial’ CTA, CrazyEgg sells the click here with a ‘Show me my Heatmap’ CTA. This has almost certainly increased the click through rate of this landing page.
Selling the click can also decrease your bounce rate
Most email marketing KPIs can be improved with a "sell the click" strategy, including bounce rate.
Selling the click is an excellent way to lower your bounce rate because the most common reason why visitors "bounce" from a website or landing page is that the content behind the click isn't what they expected.
By selling the click, you focus on setting accurate expectations about what the reader can expect to see next, increasing the chance that your landing page will meet their expectations. Setting accurate expectations is one of the best ways to decrease your bounce rate and increase your email engagement rate.
Since your bounce rate is a critical factor in determining your overall conversion rates, this is just another way that selling the click can increase your conversion rates overall. While bounce rate isn't often considered a core email marketing metric, this is one reason why it should be.
Selling the click can decrease your unsubscribe rate
One of the most common reasons people unsubscribe from email marketing is that they feel like they've been dumped into a sales funnel rather than being part of a beneficial relationship with you.
If your subscribers feel like they're just a cog in your sales machine your unsubscribe rate will start to climb. Asking for too much money, time or attention in your emails can quickly turn your brand into the online equivalent of that one "friend" who only contacts you when they need a favor.
Here's what this all means:
Instead of selling subscribers your $999 online course, sell them on a free 30 minute video course packed with value.
Instead of selling subscribers on your SaaS product, sell them on a massive, in-depth blog post covering the latest trends in your industry.
(We could go on, but you get the idea.)
Ultimately, selling the click forces you to provide value to your email subscribers before they provide value to you. There's no better way to lower your unsubscribe rate.
4. Optimize and test your email marketing for mobile first
According to Litmus, 41.6% of all email campaigns sent through their platform were opened on mobile. This means that there has never been a better time to focus on providing subscribers on mobile a great experience.
Here’s the thing. When an email campaign looks good on mobile it almost certainly looks good on desktop too.
But when an email campaign looks good in a desktop client, there’s no guarantee it will work well on mobile.
That’s why designing your email campaigns for mobile first can have a big impact on your email marketing metrics.
Avoid common email design mistakes on mobile devices
One of the most common causes of email display issues on mobile is the use of images and GIFs featuring text.
Many mobile browsers will shrink down larger images in emails to fit on a mobile screen. Image quality is lost in this process, and can cause text to become blurry or too small to read.
- Avoid adding small, cramped text to images used in your email marketing campaign. Large sized text will look better and be more readable when images are scaled down for mobile.
- Ask your designer to provide images suitable for Retina displays.
- Always test your completed email campaigns for mobile using your ESP’s inbuilt preview tool. Send a test email to yourself and other colleagues or trusted contacts and open your email on both desktop and mobile (ideally in different email clients and devices using a tool like Testi@).
5. Advance beyond general rules and send at the right time for your audience. But don’t just focus on open rates
The day and time you send an email can mean the difference between flopping and fanfare.
For one-off email campaigns, you want to send at a time when your subscribers are most likely to be receptive to your email marketing efforts, and also in the right headspace to click your CTA.
Years ago, email marketers were given generic advice like: email marketing open rates are always best on Sundays.
Optimal send times in email marketing are vastly different between audiences and industries
These days, most sophisticated email marketing platforms will give you personalized insights into the best time to send email campaigns to your audience. It’s worth following this guidance.
But remember: the time and day when open rates are best may not necessarily be the same time and day when click-through rates are best.
This is especially the case when your call to action involves a significant time commitment from the subscriber, such as filling out a lengthy survey, or watching a 45 minute webinar upsell into a $1,000 paid course.
In these cases, your open rates may be highest when your click-through rates are likely to be at their worst - for example, when your subscribers start their workday, check their email, and discover that 10 new items have been added to their to-do list overnight.
Optimize send times based on conversion rate rather than open rate
The answer to this challenge is to track and optimize your email marketing send times based on conversion rate rather than open rate.
After all, the point of a marketing email isn't simply to be opened - it's to make a sale.
Optimizing around open rates is the equivalent of a brick and mortar store optimizing around foot traffic volume rather than generating more sales.
Think about the day and time when subscribers are most likely to be in the right setting to consider your call to action. For example, sending a lengthy UX survey on a lazy Sunday morning may yield the best conversion rate. Meanwhile, sending at 9am on a Monday might produce the optimal conversion rate for a paid industry newsletter subscription.
Sending automated emails at the right time
When it comes to automated emails, it’s more important to send them at the right point in the subscriber or customer journey, than to send them at a specific day and time.
For example, have you ever received an automated email at totally the wrong time?
Maybe you’ve received an email from an online store requesting a product review when you haven’t even received the product you ordered in the mail yet.
Or maybe you’ve signed up to an educational email series, and received lessons much faster than you can actually read or watch them, leaving you feeling lost and overwhelmed.
Not only is this likely to be met with a poor conversion rate, it’s also likely to rub your customers the wrong way. It gives the impression that you’re out of touch with the customer.
Where possible, use event triggers rather than time-delay sending
For customer journey emails, event and behavior triggers are generally always preferable to sending a set number of days after the previous email in the flow.
Ideally, things like review request emails should be sent a couple weeks after your store gets a notification that the customer’s order was delivered. This ensures the customer has received what they ordered, and has had time to use the product before giving a review.
Emails delivered in a set sequence (such as an email course) can be triggered 24 hours after the subscriber engages with the previous email in the sequence. If the subscriber doesn’t engage, you can shift them into a re-engagement flow designed to get them back into sync with your content.
Bonus tip: block out a recurring time on your calendar for testing and optimization
Whether it’s once a week, or once a month, schedule dedicated time on your calendar for testing and optimization of your email marketing campaigns, automations, and customer journeys.
Without scheduled time to review your most important email marketing metrics and key performance indicators, it’s too easy to get caught up in the grind of email marketing without ever taking the time to discover what really works.
Focus on improving your core email automations
If you only have a small amount of time available to do this kind of testing, focus on your core automations - the emails that nearly every customer or subscriber gets. This could be the 'Welcome Flow' for an eCommerce store, the onboarding flow for a SaaS product, or a lead nurturing campaign for an agency.
Continually improving your email marketing performance takes dedicated time focused on strategy, analysis, and reflection
Doing this regularly means your email marketing strategy will continue to evolve and stay current as your audience and your product matures.
Even small improvements to your core flows can produce massive gains over the long-term. If you have to pick a single focus, this is a great place to start.
What small change made the biggest improvement to your email marketing metrics? We'd love it if you'd share your experience in the comments below.