The Science of Email Marketing

Review of a Teleseminar Presented by Dan Zarrella of HubSpot

I recently attended this online seminar, and was surprised about some of the things I learned. It’s about an hour long, and you can view it here:

Dan obtained access to statistics for 9 billion (!) emails sent using MailChimp, and analyzed them. He also held focus groups and received several hundred responses to a survey. Here are some of the findings Dan presented, along with my own thoughts.

When Should I Send Emails?

It’s a myth that business to business communications are different than business to consumer communications

It turns out that about 88% of people do not have separate work and personal inboxes. They read their personal and work related email from the same inbox, so personal emails get read at work and work emails at home. And most clickthroughs (clicking a link in an email to find more information) happen on the weekend. Perhaps this is because readers feel they have more time on the weekend to do this.

Graph of clickthrough rates against the day of the week the email was sent

On top of that, it turns out that the days people are most likely to unsubscribe from your emails are Mondays and Tuesdays. So it’s not a bad idea to send your marketing emails on weekends, when they are more likely to be clicked through and when unsubscribes are not that high.

Graph of unsubscribe rates against the day of the week the email was sent

Data also showed that there is a sharp spike upwards in clickthroughs first thing in the morning. There is also a spike up in unsubscribes at that time of day, but the net effect is that it is still best to send early in the day.

How Often Should I Send Emails?

This one totally surprised me. Turns out that sending frequency doesn’t affect clickthrough much. Although sending once per month gets the best clickthroughs, sending more often gets only slightly fewer click throughs per email. The surprise for me was that sending often does not substantially increase unsubscribe rates. And since you’re really interested in the total number of clickthroughs not the rate of clickthroughs per email, you get better results by sending more often. So Dan says “Don’t be afraid to send too much.”

Graph showing effect of sending frequency on clickthrough rates

Graph showing effect of sending frequency on unsubscribe rates

This may be because most people who don’t want your emails will unsubscribe on the first email they receive (something the data showed). After that you are dealing with people who are more likely to want your emails. As long as you are giving them value in each email, they are not that likely to unsubscribe.

What Format Should my Emails Be?

80% of users queried indicated that they read email on mobile devices, so optimizing the presentation of your email for mobile devices is likely to increase your clickthrough rates. This may mean doing a text-only email instead of HTML, or it may mean formatting your HTML to work nicely on mobile devices.

What Content Should my Emails Contain?

Including valuable reference information in your emails encourages people to want to receive your email and to devote some time to reading it. So include content, not just advertisements.

People interviewed indicated that their favourite emails were those that made them feel special – part of a select group. So give them something only subscribers get. This might be access to special information or discount codes.

Include multiple links through to your website, too. Data showed that the more links in your email the more clickthroughs you get per email. This may be a result of the reader having received various types of invitations to click and finally encountering one that “speaks” to them.

Interestingly data also showed that there was also less unsubscribing when there are more links. So find opportunities to incorporate more links into your email. Try out different invitations to click.

Instead of including a request asking people to forward your email to friends or colleagues who might be interested, ask them follow you on a social network like Twitter. They are more likely to do this and eventually those who follow them will become aware of you.

What Words Should I Use in Email Titles?

People often wonder what words to use in the title. I always assumed I should focus on the topic of the newsletter, and leave out what seemed like “wasted” words like “Newsletter”, “eNews”, “Issue” etc. Turns out that was a mistake. People are more likely to click through (which means they actually read the email in the first place) when words in the title indicated that is was a serialized newsletter.

Here are some of the words that showed up often in emails with good clickthrough rates.

  • E-newsletter
  • week’s
  • issue
  • digest
  • bulletin
  • edition
  • news

This may not mean that just using those words makes a difference. It may be that serial newsletters in general get more clickthroughs. So try having a regular newsletter and making it clear in the title that this is what it is.

The From Address

Make sure you use a from address that the recipient will recognize. If they know you by business name, use that; if they know you by personal name use that.

Junk Email Accounts

Although people often don’t have separate work and personal email accounts, they often do have separate email addresses for receiving what they consider to be junk emails. (58% of people polled indicated they had a “junk” account.) The junk email addresses are what they use in order to access information, create accounts, or enter draws, from organizations whose emails they don’t want to have to read later.

To get them to give you their “real” email address, you need to offer something that will make them want to get your emails. This might be good informational content or time-sensitive offers they will be interested in. Seems to me, that when all is said and done, “Content is [still] king”.

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