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Thursday, May 13, 2010

TEST RESULTS: How to choose the best subject line

Nobody can read your email without first opening it, right? Your name and subject line are the only things a recipient sees while making their decision to open or delete your email. ISPs are also using user engagement metrics such as opens, clicks and forwards while making their decision to deliver your email to the recipient's inbox, bulk folder or simply ignore it. Low engagement can lead to poor deliverability.

A couple months ago we wrote an article about choosing email subjects that will convince the recipient to open it and see what's inside. You can see how we selected the subject lines by reading the original article HERE. In summary, we were using the Google Adwords Keyword and Wonder Wheel tools to help us choose words in our subject line based on actual Google search terms verses the subject line proposed by the marketing department. While we did achieve our goal of increasing the open rate, the rest of the test results were a total surprise.

Subject Lines Tested

Marketing Team: Help for your Age Spots, Melasma, Hyperpigmentation

Google Tools: Removing age spots with home remedies

Emails were delivered as an even 50/50 split to 14,000 subscribers and estimated Inbox deliverability for both tests were identical as measured by Return Path's Mailbox Monitor tool. Everything except for the subject lines was identical. Here are the Google subject line numbers.

13.25% HIGHER open rate (hurray!)
57.14% HIGHER unsubscribe rate
30.73% LOWER click through rate
43.75% FEWER orders
56.60% LOWER sales

Higher open rates don't mean better results! We got the boost in open rates we had hoped for proving the effectiveness of the Google tools, but clearly disappointed the readers due to an apparent disconnect between the subject line and the actual email body content. Not only did we send fewer people to the website but we upset many more customers enough to unsubscribe from the mailing list altogether. The lost opportunity cost of never being able to market to these unsubscribed recipients is a cost rarely taken into consideration when adding up the numbers.

Lessons learned: A subject line must support the body content of the email. Even the most seasoned marketers must TEST TEST TEST at every opportunity.

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Monday, May 10, 2010

10 Secrets of Successful Email Marketing - Part II

Email is one of the fastest, most cost-effective marketing techniques available today. But it has it’s own set of unique challenges that require email marketers to fight on two fronts: getting your email to the inbox and keeping the subscriber interested enough to open your emails and respond to them. On the brighter side, if you follow the 10 "secrets" below you will easily cruise ahead of your competition that pays little attention to these strategies (If you need a refresher on the first five "secrets", check them out here).

6. Make the best use of the subject line

This really could be it’s own blog post, and much has already been written on this topic - it’s that vital. The subject line is like the headline of your email and can make or break an email campaign. Keep in mind that your subscribers will scan email subjects in their inboxes to decide whether your email is worth opening. This means that the first three words of your subject line have the biggest impact, so make sure you use them and put the most important information at the beginning of the line. Ideally, your subject line should be friendly, build curiosity and promise a benefit for reading the rest of the email - but every audience is different so you should consider testing subject lines to see what works with your audience and what doesn’t. One other best practice: Try to keep subject lines between 35-55 characters to keep them from getting cut off.

I could write about subject lines all day, so let’s move on to...

7. Be attentive to email formatting

The majority of email clients are now capable of rendering HTML emails so you have full control over how the email appears in the customer’s inbox. The choice of font, text wrapping, and location of your graphical elements can lend professionalism and credibility or damage it. It's important to use an email-rendering tool that can show you exactly how your email will render in all of the top email clients, such as Gmail, Hotmail and Microsoft Outlook. This will allow you to see how your email will appear to the reader when images are blocked and where the typical "fold" is so that you can be sure to include your main message in plain view so the reader doesn't have to scroll down (or over) to see it. Just because your email looks fine on your own computer screen doesn't mean that it will look fine on your recipient's. You’ll also need to be aware of the unique restrictions of each client. For example, Outlook 7 does not allow the display of animated GIFs, so you’ll want to keep those things in mind when designing your email.

8. Keep your emails focused

Avoid trying to share too much information in a single email. If you find that your email is getting too lengthy then it’s best to make this email a teaser that would lead to the full information on a landing page or on your Web site. Subscribers expect an email to be an appropriate length and to go beyond this is to risk losing their attention. A Web site, on the other hand can present complex ideas without the risk of losing attention. No one expects to get a personal letter the length of the Sunday Newspaper.

9. Provide value upfront

Your email recipients expect to receive value from you in return for reading your messages. Whether it is a hot tip, a discount or some other special offer, you must deliver or lose your subscribers. The more value you provide, the more anticipation to receive your next email builds, and the more likely your subscriber’s loyalty will translate into increased business for your company.

10. Track everything

Tracking is probably the single best thing you can do to improve your email marketing. Knowing what elements are successful and which ones aren’t will help you to create your next email message. Here again it becomes important to use an email vendor with the latest tracking software so you can determine the open rate, deliverability, click-through rate and conversion rate for your emails. This is the only way you can determine your email marketing effectiveness and so make incremental improvements. Tracking is the direct marketer’s huge advantage over brand advertising. You will want this advantage too.

10 Secrets Of Successful Email Marketing - Part I

There is no question as to the marketing viability of email: It is fast, cost-effective and you get real-time data from which you can assess and adjust your future campaigns. There is hardly any other marketing medium that comes close to email marketing for reaching the consumer directly, while allowing personalization of this communication.

However, just like every marketing medium, email has its own unique challenges - such as differentiating yourself from spammers, deliverability and getting your subscriber’s attention above the noise found in the typical inbox today. Therefore, as an email marketer you have to fight on two fronts: getting your email to the inbox and keeping the subscriber interested enough to open your emails and respond to them. On the brighter side, if you follow the 10 “secrets” below you will easily cruise ahead of your competition that pays little attention to these strategies.

1. Be in tune with your readers

Your subscribers chose to join your list because they wanted specific content from you (most likely a special offer) and they expect you to deliver that information. If the content in your email matches that expectation, then you are more likely to retain your subscribers and build a relationship with them. If you simply send emails with information you want to promote, then you will isolate your subscribers and risk losing them. Don’t believe me? Check out this article by eMarketer that shows that 41% of US Internet users threatened to stop buying from companies that send them irrelevant messages. "Room for Improvement in E-mail Opt-Outs"

2. Flash your badge

Spammers can easily imitate your emails by spoofing the from and subject lines in phishing attempts. Citibank, eBay and Wells Fargo can all attest to that. What spammers wouldn’t be privy to is your customer’s personal information. So if you fail to personalize your emails and use a generic salutation such as “Dear Subscriber,” you risk having your customers question the validity of your email, possibly even trashing it before they open it. Show your reader you know them by including their name and other information that only you would know (i.e. the last four digits of their account or a product they have bought from you). By identifying yourself to your customers and demonstrating that you know their details shared with you at signup, you can earn their trust, and therefore, their readership.

3. Use a professional email service

Like mailing packages, you can choose from free to the most expensive packaging. The real cost may be that your items do not make it to the intended address intact. The same holds true for emails: You may choose to use anything from free scripts, available online, to a professional email service provider. But if the success of your email marketing is important to you, then you would not want to gamble with unreliable email methods. You should find a company that provides the advanced features that would allow you to maximize the returns on your email marketing efforts.

4. Remember your medium

Keep in mind how the general public uses email. Email is a very personal medium and it wasn’t invented to send marketing messages. The way you write an email to a friend is different in tone to how you would write a cover letter to a company. All that to say: Readers expect a different type and style of language in an email than, say, a formal letter. If you can lighten the style of your normal company communication to be more conversational, friendly and, most importantly, helpful, then it will be easier to connect on a personal level. Don’t go overboard though: get too friendly or act like the reader is your buddy and they will see right through this and feel patronized.

5. Find a balance between promotion and content

Most likely you are using email marketing to not only brand your company and provide useful information, but also to make sales. This means that at some point you will make offers to your subscribers. The big question is: How often should you send promotional emails, compared to pure informational content? Of course, the answer to this question will depend on what you promised the customer at the time they subscribed. If your reader opted in to receive weekly specials, then there should be no guilty feeling about sending weekly promotional emails. But if you promised information, then you should be judicious in the number of purely promotional emails you send out.

There are still 5 more secrets, including some of the most important, so be sure to come back in 2 days for part II.

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