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Using metrics to inform agile email marketing

Sending emails is one thing, but sending emails that your subscriber community looks forward to receiving, reading and clicking on is another. It’s time to start thinking about your email marketing with agility.

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Paying attention to your email newsletter’s subscriber activity metrics means establishing a feedback loop that yields a wealth of actionable email optimization opportunities.

If you’re listening to your audience, then you know that there’s no end to the ideas that you can come up with for email content broader marketing strategy – it’s enough to keep you publishing content, social media posts and emails for months. But you probably don’t have the time or the money to work in that scale of volume, and your audience doesn’t have sufficient time or interest to consume it all either.

By methodically experimenting with various email marketing variables and styles, and by paying close attention to these experiments’ results, you can forge a feedback loop that will soon have you feeling like a lean, mean email marketing machine – except much friendlier and more conversational, obviously.

With content marketing (and this includes email marketing, which often gets under-appreciated in the content marketing mix), it’s important to remain mindful of the forest and avoid getting lost among the trees. Remember to always experiment, measure and repeat, so as to maintain healthy use of your feedback loop.

Refining email for maximum impact is an ongoing process

Examining the metrics of each newsletter and tweaking the next one in accordance with what worked and what didn’t can improve your newsletter’s success. It is supremely important to continue to check your metrics to see if your readership has changed its habits, correlating audience activity changes to your email changes.

And even once you feel that you’ve got the formula perfected, remember that there’s still room for improvement. Don’t forget to try something new every once in a while so your newsletters don’t get stale.

Practical advice on what specifically to experiment with

The factors which usually have the biggest impact on open rates, bounce rates and click-through rates are numerous. Here are some of the easiest to tweak as part of your feedback loop.

  • Subject line – A catchy subject line will of course get more attention. Metrics will show whether your readers respond better to a broad or specific subject line. Also test a subject line which mentions a specific deal or coupon vs. one which focuses on a product or service. Pay attention to which subject lines garner the most response activity – long vs. short, conversational vs. punchy, or the use of special characters like brackets or explanation points.
  • 4729801304_d50a7c1daeName of email address – If the “From” label looks spammy to your readers, they won’t open the email. Your own name, your company’s name, or the newsletter publication’s name might be a better choice than something generic. Try each one and see which your audience responds to better.
  • First line of email – The first line of the email usually appears as a preview in your readers’ inboxes. They may decide whether they are interested in your mailing based on this line. Try to grab their interest in a short sentence and check metrics to see whether open rates improve.
  • What time of day the email was sent – Check online studies for the latest information on the best time of day to send emails. There’s always some new study demonstrating that the timing recommendations yielded from prior studies were faulty, so the only way to know for sure is to check what works best with your specific community of  subscribers. Assuming your audience is based in the US, our advice is to start with the late morning hours EST, on non-Monday weekdays. If your audience is elsewhere, you need to adjust your send time accordingly. If your product or service is work-related ,you want the newsletter to reach its readers during work hours, but a recreation-related newsletter might do better in the evening or even on a weekend. On the other hand, deviating from convention might get you to stand out from the pack. Always experiment, measure, rinse, repeat.
  • The topic of the newsletter – Once you’ve gotten your readers’ attention, you have to hold it with interesting and relevant content. Test different types of content to see which are most popular. Don’t miss opportunities to take advantage of current events, holidays and trending issues. Give them a spin that’s relevant to your brand and use them as marketing tools.
  • Tone of call-to-action – Punctuation and length of sentences can make a call to action polite, urgent or cheerful. Check your metrics to see which one of these gets more click-throughs.
  • Hard-sell vs. soft-sell vs. no-sell content - Do your subscribers prefer to receive punchy emails with timely discounts, announcements and deals, or do they want you to help them with your wise expertise, nary a mention of your products? Try both approaches, and everywhere in-between to see which works best.
  • Design of call-to-actionHow does your call-to-action look? Graphic design conveys a message without words. Some readers respond to loud and bright calls-to-action in button form, while others prefer a more subtle design, or just text-based CTAs. Test different permutations of tone and design to see which calls to action have the most success.

Continue to test and tweak as necessary until you feel you’ve maxed out on opportunities to optimize your emails for opens, shares and click-through rates. And then do it all over again. This process will keep your newsletter fresh, interesting and profitable.

Photos courtesy of morgueFile (top) and Flickr user Keith Williamson under a Creative Commons license.

About Hadassah Levy

Guest post contributor Hadassah Levy specializes in social media, SEO and content writing at i-Point Media Group, a full-service web design, development and marketing firm.