You’ve got mail! What email marketers need to know in 2023
August 23, 2022
February 6, 2023
There’s a reason why one-third of marketers send emails every week, while over a quarter of them send multiple emails every month – because email is one of the most effective tools in a marketer’s arsenal.
Unlike an ad you might see on television, on a billboard as you drive past, on YouTube, or in a magazine, a piece of email communication is personal. Whoever is sending it to you went through the trouble of getting your email address to communicate directly. Even if you don’t end up opening it, you will see it in your inbox and likely have a decent idea of what it’s about.
As a marketer, email is one of the best mediums to build a relationship with your audience. You can personalize engagement, strengthen connections, and – importantly – measure it effectively.
Not everyone has a social media account, a television, or subscribes to a streaming service. An email address, on the other hand, is necessary for a wide number of services such as utilities, major purchases, or most things that you sign up for, meaning that most people do have them. As a marketing channel, email allows marketers to segment the market with great detail, and apart from compliance laws they can use the channel in just about any way they want.
While you can use it for top-of-the-funnel functions – depending on how you acquire the email addresses, they might not already know who you are and you can raise awareness that way – but email really shines when pushing potential customers down the funnel.
Above all, it’s a massively profitable channel relative to others. Litmus’ research shows that the UK and EU’s average ROI comes to 41x, compared to 36x in the US.
Email is an old technology, but even among smartphone users, it remains the most popular channel to receive communications from businesses, with 46% favoring it over other platforms like SMS, Whatsapp, or phone calls, according to Statista. It makes sense – a person’s email account acts as a buffer between them and whoever is trying to sell them something. It’s a place where you as a consumer have agreed to receive communications. Something like an app notification, for example, is quite intrusive to many.
There are a lot of figures to keep track of in an email campaign - some of the most common ones include:
Open rate The percentage of people who received the email and opened it.
Click rate: The percentage of people who received the email and clicked through.
Click-through rate: A subtle but important difference with click rate. The click-through rate is the percentage of people who opened the email and ended up clicking through. This gives a better indication of the effectiveness of the content itself.
Bounce rate: The percentage of emails sent which were not received.
Conversion rate: The percentage of people who received your email and followed through with the CTA.
According to Constant Contact’s data from as recently as June 2022, the average open rate across all industries stands at 30.35%, with a click rate of 1.11% and a bounce rate of 9.96%.
Ultimately, the whole point of sending emails is to receive a benefit. You want those returns.
Several factors will affect how much ROI you can see from your email marketing activities, according to Litmus. These include:
Size of company and team: The size of your company matters, but not as much as it used to. If you were bigger and better known, people would be more likely to react to your email campaigns, but the pandemic showed that it was the smaller companies – with fewer than 100 employees – that saw the lowest drop in ROI between 2019 and 2020. The email marketing team within the company will naturally have an effect as well - teams with two or fewer employees see an ROI of 30x, while teams of between 3-5 full-time staff show 42x ROI.
Industry: If you’re an Amazon seller, this is good news for you. Retail, eCommerce, and consumer goods showed a far higher ROI than sectors like software and tech. This may be due in large part to a combination of know-how and the easier measurability of their calls to action.
Content: This is arguably the most important determinant of how well your email does. As with anything, if it’s not interesting people will not care and will not follow through. How relevant is your message to the person receiving it? Are you including a strong enough CTA? Is your copy dry or does it have some vibrancy to it? Does your layout look dated or does it look professionally done? It's not just about your copy or your visuals, but the extent to which the emails are personalized will affect people’s willingness to click through. Make your content dynamic! To the extent that it’s appropriate and fits with your tone, use moving GIFs and interactive features. This kind of animation also has an impact on response – with marketers that included them “often” or “always” seeing more than double the ROI compared to those that did not.
Testing How often do you test And how effective are your methods? If you don’t trial your mail-outs, you don’t have a complete picture of what will work and what will not. Are your emails likely to go into the spam folder? Do you know which version of your email would do better with your target audience? Do you know that they will display properly in the recipient’s inbox across different email clients? ROI will be affected by all of these.
Size of email list and frequency: This one’s a bit of a no-brainer – the more people you have on your mail lists, the more chance you have of converting them. Below 500,000 subscribers the ROI is 33x, while over 500,000 it’s 42x. It does plateau after a while, with lists greater than 5 million getting 37x returns. How often you send out emails will also have an effect – you don’t want to send so few that people forget about you, but you also don’t want to send so many that people tune out and stop paying attention. According to Litmus, the sweet spot is between 9-16 emails each month to maximize returns (though sending too many is better than sending too few).
Measurement and analysis: Without knowing how you’ve done, you won’t know how you can improve next time. The more analytical tools you have at your disposal, and the more granular your analysis, the more insight you can gain from each campaign and apply to the next one.
Regulations: Email campaigns in the EU or the UK will be different from email campaigns in the US. The US typically has more relaxed rules around spamming, though laws vary from state to state and are likely to tighten up in the future, while the EU and UK already have some of the toughest anti-spam laws anywhere in the world. Regulations don’t necessarily mean ROI goes down, however. If anything, it could improve returns as consumers have more control and see the marketers that do reach their inboxes as more legitimate - it’s worth remembering that the EU and UK have a higher ROI than the US.
Valuing your email list
Like any marketing campaign, emails aren’t free. You get great returns but you also have to keep track of your overheads, which can include the email service itself, along with any automation software you might use, maybe even paid ads to bring in potential customers, and even the writers you get to write the copy.
Once you’ve got a good idea of your outgoings, you subtract then from your revenue from a given list, which can most often be determined by a 12-month revenue figure – which you can usually get from Google Analytics if you have it, or from tracking the links embedded in emails, or some other metric.
You then divide that by the number of active subscribers on the list and you get a rough idea of how much each email address is worth. That doesn’t mean total subscribers – you could have 50,000 people on your list but there’s a good chance that many, if not most, haven’t actually clicked on anything over the past year – they would not be counted as users in your calculation because they did not even have the potential of creating revenue.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but if you don’t try out your methods, you won’t know where to improve them. You’d be surprised how many companies will go through the trouble of using email campaigns and then not bother to properly measure how effective they were. Half of companies say that they measure the ROI from their email campaigns “poorly”, “very poorly”, or “not at all”, according to Litmus.
Businesses that carried out various tests on their emails, including A/B, quality assurance, and spam testing have seen an increase of up to 28% in their ROI.
Types of test:
Preview and quality assurance testing: This one’s especially important if your email contains numerous bells and whistles. You will definitely want to make sure you check everything about your email before you send it out, and you want to ensure they display properly across multiple email servers and clients. Even small typos, transcription errors, or graphical mistakes can throw off a reader and make them less likely to follow through with your CTA. This is to make sure that the recipient isn’t getting a shoddy, unfinished piece of work. Is everything spelled correctly? Are the images where you want them? Do the hyperlinks and the phone numbers work? Is the logo the correct version? Try to get a common checklist for your team to use so you’re all looking for the same mistakes, and don’t send anything out until multiple people have gone through it to make sure everything is as it should be.
Spam filter testing: Anyone with an email account has struggled at some point with their spam filter. It’s a wide net that catches many things, not all of them spam. We all have stories of missing some invitation or reminder email that got stuck in the junk mail. For us, it’s a nuisance, but to email marketers, it’s the boogeyman You need to know that your send-outs are not getting diverted away from the inbox, where they will have no engagement and be useless in terms of post-campaign analysis. If you test and find that too many of your emails are ending up getting caught in the spam filter, you can make adjustments such as avoiding certain common words and phrases such as “opt-in” that may trigger the filter, or switch to an email server that has a good reputation for reaching the main inbox. A recent deliverability test carried out by Email Tool Tester found that 84.2% of emails tend to get delivered, which is a large proportion but still means that 15.8% of all emails still get caught in spam boxes or go missing altogether.
A/B Testing: Similar to the type of A/B Test you might run for your Amazon product pages, you can run multiple versions of your email to see which one gets more engagement. A/B testing tends to be one of the most effective ways to gauge what messaging will register with your audience. The process is very simple: you test two mail-outs simultaneously, which are identical except for one variable that you are trying out. You determine which one did better after a certain period, and that’s the one you keep. Repeat the process with another variable, and the more testing you do, the better the final product will be. Unlike with your Amazon product pages, however, try not to change too many things at once - it’s just like high school science class, you change one variable, and the rest of the email is your control factor.
You can’t just go off, send a bunch of emails and expect decent returns if you don’t have a strategy. You need a plan of action before you start - know who you want to reach, what you want to achieve, and how to determine if you are successful or need to change something for next time.
Outline your objectives and your audience: Without these two things, you’re going nowhere. You need to have a clear idea of what you’re trying to do and who you’re trying to reach. Your email list can get very big, and it’s unlikely that every campaign will be designed for everyone on it. It’s not just demographics that you have to segment for. Yes – different products will be appropriate for different ages, geographies, income levels, or other factors, but even within those, different customer sets are further down the tunnel and ready to accept different CTAs. Segment the market and pick out the persona of your ideal audience. What is it that you want them to do? Are you trying to get them to buy something directly? Redirect them to where they can see more options? Spread awareness of a new feature or product? Are you trying to drive traffic to your site? Stay fresh in the audience’s mind and build loyalty? Understand who your audience is, what they need, and what they would be likely to react to, then form a plan to deliver it to them. At this point you should also establish what success would look like – this means also understanding what a good industry benchmark would be for an email campaign of this kind.
Put together your list: Building an email list is not a quick process, and it requires giving potential customers many opportunities to opt into your list. One of the biggest challenges here is that awareness of privacy issues is such that people are, more than ever, hesitant to hand over any more personal details than they absolutely have to. This often means that to get potential customers to give you their email, you’re going to have to give them something in return. This is called a lead magnet – a free piece of value you’re giving the recipient to convince them to give you their email. This could be a lot of things: a report, a newsletter, a white paper, access to an online course or upcoming webinar, a free consultation, a free trial, or something else of value. Don’t make your lead magnets difficult to access – you might have some leeway if it’s something like a report that people will want to read and might be willing to go through several steps to get to, but generally speaking make it as smooth as possible to get their hands on. Keep in mind that while your lead magnet may be offered for free, the idea is to get them to pay for something eventually, so be sure that any content you follow up with is interesting enough to keep them hooked so you can eventually drop a paid offer on them. When you’re getting them to sign on, make sure the form they fill out is easy to follow – you don’t need their life story, just their basic information. The more you make them say, the less likely they are to follow through. Over time, be sure to remove inactive users or addresses that bounced emails back - they’re just dead weight.
Choose your campaign: There’s no right or wrong answer here – it depends entirely on your subjective assessment of what your specific audience would respond best to. It will depend largely on what your objective is With any campaign you choose, you want to make sure that you set a timetable – you don’t want to be firing off emails at random. Plan out a consistent drip of emails, aiming to not overwhelm them with too many but also don’t let them forget about you with too few. Certain periods, such as new product launches or seasonal events, may see an increase in the cadence, but always aim for general consistency.
Measurement: Always keep track of the numbers. All the little changes you make will add up and make larger differences. Are your emails being delivered to where you want them? Are they being opened? Are people following through with the CTA? And how does the number of people clicking through compare to the number of people opening? Are people opting to leave your email list? Is there a spike in any of these measures compared to other email campaigns you’ve carried out? These are all measures that you need to have a handle on.
Keep in mind that different objectives could yield different results. If you are trying to recover sales after customers abandoned their cart, for example, you could see higher rates than if you are reaching out to them the first time.
According to SaleCycle’s 2022 Ecommerce Stats and Trends Report, the average open rate for cart abandonment emails is around 34.97%, with an average click rate of 22.04% and a conversion rate of 28.04%. The rates also vary depending on the sector. Emails for general retail, for example, will have a higher average conversion rate than fashion emails, which will in turn have a higher conversion rate than travel emails.
Abandoned carts are highly frustrating - you almost had them until they left at the last second - but they are not useless. Just because they didn’t complete a purchase doesn’t mean that they were not interested in what they were looking at. What they were about to buy tells you something about them, and you can use that data to segment them more effectively for future emails, similar to Amazon Sponsored Display ads.
No matter what you’re doing there are certain things you don’t want to lose sight of. At the end of the day, consistency on the important things is what will make the difference across any campaign you undertake.
Here are some top tips to follow:
Have a clear CTA Your CTA is what it’s all about – the rest of the email is just a vehicle for what you want to ask the reader to do. This is one thing you do not want to make complicated for them to follow. Ideally, you will be directing them somewhere – likely to your website – and making it as simple as a click.
Have a good landing page So you’ve convinced the recipient to click through on your CTA, now you want to make sure that the place it takes them isn’t some boring, drab, static page. Once you’ve grabbed them by the hand, you don’t want to let go until they convert. Design it professionally, be clear about the next steps they need to take, and make it easy for them to do so.
Format for mobiles Everyone has a phone nowadays, and chances are that they will be opening their emails from mobile devices rather than desktops, so you better make sure that your emails are optimized to be viewed on a small screen. Otherwise you may well be wasting a good chunk of your efforts.
Catch their eye Every piece of content, whether it’s the copy or the images, should be designed to attract as much of your audience’s attention as possible. The subject line should be snappy, clear, and have something to offer them. The same goes for the body of text in the email itself – make it interesting and actionable, they’re already looking for any excuse to just close your email, don’t give them any. It goes without saying, but your images should also be relevant, grabby, and – again – formatted for any device that the reader could be opening it on. It’s just like on Amazon product pages - if you have good images, your chances of people clicking through will improve. There’s a reason why A+ content sells better on Amazon, the same principle applies here.
Personalize, Personalize, Personalize This can’t be emphasized enough – do everything in your power to personalize your mail-outs as much as you possibly can. A customer will know that a company didn’t just send one email to them specifically, but the more they feel like you are forming a relationship with them, the more likely they are to follow your CTA. People can sniff out a generic email a mile away and will be more likely to unsubscribe if all they get from you is stuff they would not want or need. You don’t need to know everything about them, but the more data you can collect when gathering your email list, the more firepower you have here. It can be as simple as starting the email by addressing it to them personally, automating the emails to send on their birthday or anniversary of subscription, making the content specific to their location, or even just signing off the email with the name of someone from your company rather than just from the company itself.
Use templates Unless we’re talking about a one-off email, using templates will save you loads of time, especially if your campaign objective is something like retaining subscribers, where the messaging is simple. You can make the same offer to many people over a wide time window. It will also save money on needing to pay for a graphic designer, for example, who only needs to design one send-out instead of many.
Time it right It’s not all about what you send, but also when you send it. According to Omnisend, the first 10 days of the month have the best performance. When you send them during the day also matters - you don’t want it to be when they’re too busy to pay attention to it. Getting them right as they wake up and check their phone is a good way to grab their attention - Omnisend found that campaigns that send at around 8 AM tend to have an open rate of 20.32% with a click-through rate of 7.79%, while the best time for click-through rates was just after the working day ends at 5 PM. Campaigns sent at around 4 PM, leading up to the end of the day, yield the most orders, though.
User-generated content Customers will always trust other customers more than they trust you. If you’re able to add positive user reviews of your products or have pictures of people using them, you’ll have an easier time driving people down the funnel.
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About the author
Kennedell is Head of Account Management, Onboarding, and Operations at Threecolts. He began working in ecommerce in 2020 with OldStreetMedia, where he was General Manager. While getting his MBA from London Business School, he worked as part of Manchester United’s media strategy team and Twitter’s Global Content Partnerships team. He also worked for several years in finance departments for the oil & gas industry before turning his talents to the ecommerce sector.