What Does the Future of (Your) Email Marketing Look Like?
How’s your 2018 email marketing plan looking?
If you don’t have one yet, now’s the time to start planning so that you’re ready to run more effective campaigns as soon as the holiday season ends.
We’ve rounded up some of the most promising trends and practical suggestions for email marketing for the year ahead, based on recent research.
But what we’re most interested in here is the future of your email marketing, and how you can improve it to raise your conversion rates.
New year, new approach to your list?
Most email list advice focuses on growing your list, but writer and publisher Linda Formichelli recently took a contrarian approach and booted 5,800 subscribers from her company’s list of 7,000.
She and her business partner ended up saving money by no longer hosting those subscribers who weren’t buying anything, and they were able to boost sales, in part by better targeting offers to the loyal customers who remained. As she explained, “Having a load of subscribers who aren’t really interested in your content and offerings skews your analyses. When you survey your subscribers, the replies are not necessarily from people interested in ever buying from you.”
What could this mean for your business?
If you’re not happy with your email marketing program’s open and conversion rates, it may be time to audit your list and reduce the number of subscribers to focus on quality rather than quantity—especially if you’re basing product development or marketing decisions on surveys of your list members.
4 email marketing best practices for 2018
Once you’ve identified your key subscribers, it’s on you to keep up your end of the email relationship. This means knowing the best frequency of emails, what to include in every email, how your subscribers will view your emails, and how to keep their trust.
All of the suggestions below are based on an October 2017 report by Nikki Baird and Steve Rowen at Retail Systems Research. They analyzed marketing emails sent by 138 companies in the Internet Retailer Top 500 to see what really works—and what really doesn’t. Although they studied major retailers, their findings can apply generally to ecommerce businesses of any size.
First, the good-and-bad news: Even most large retailers aren’t as good as they could be at email marketing. The report’s authors created a 100-point scale to rank email effectiveness and found that most of the companies on the list just flat-out failed to earn a passing grade. On the one hand, this is sad news for those retailers. On the other, it gives smaller businesses–maybe including yours–an opening to outshine larger competitors in your customers’ inboxes.
1. Use detailed subject lines
Let’s start with findings about email subject lines.
These little headlines matter a lot—they’re what recipients use to decide whether or not they’ll even open your message. But the RSR study found that more than half of the emails they looked at had subject lines so generic they didn’t let recipients know what the email was about. That means fewer opens and fewer conversions. You don’t have to write a novel in the subject line box, but every subject line should clue readers in to what’s in the email.
There’s one area where retailers are sometimes a little too specific in their subject lines, according to the RSR report: sales-y, promotional subject lines. Some high-end retailers didn’t use them at all, but 6 percent used promos in 75 to 100 percent of their marketing emails. The danger here is “training customers to simply wait for prices to fall.” If you’re counting on discounts in the subject line to get subscribers to open your emails, you risk teaching them never to pay your full prices.
2. Optimize your emails for mobile viewing
Once you get your subscribers to open your emails, based on your content-specific but not-too-promotional subject lines, there’s another trend to take into account.
About three-quarters of internet use is now mobile, and that means it’s very likely that your subscribers are reading your emails on their smartphones. Can they read them easily? Is the font too tiny, the copy too long, or the call to action button hard to see on a mobile screen? Not if you’re using mobile-optimized templates for your messaging.
Optimization is not hard to implement—Constant Contact and other email service providers offer mobile-friendly templates—but surprisingly few of the major retailers in the RSR study optimize their marketing emails for mobile reading. Sixty percent of the 138 retailers didn’t optimize their emails at all, ever. Only 4% mobile-optimized each and every email. The rest, weirdly, optimized some emails and not others. If you want your subscribers to read and act on your emails, optimize those emails for mobile reading.
3. Add menus to marketing emails
So let’s say a customer opened your email and is reading it on her phone, but the message doesn’t quite match what she’s looking for. Does she delete your email and go on with her day or does she click through to something else in your shop that interests her?
Smart retailers include a menu at the top of each marketing email so customers can shop for what they really want directly from the message. You’ve already got the customer’s attention. Keep it by giving her an easy way to shop.
4. Re-evaluate the frequency of your emails
With these changes implemented, how often should you email your clients?
That will depend on your business, your industry, and how often your competitors email their lists. (You are signed up for your competitors’ emails, right?)
Among major retailers, RSR found that one email a day is the sweet spot for reach subscribers. Send emails more often, and retailers look spammy compared to the competition, less often, and retailers “risk getting their message lost.” Again, though, that’s the ideal frequency for major retailers. You may need to spend some time researching your competition’s marketing campaigns, surveying your best customers to find out what they prefer, and tracking unsubscribe rates as you adjust your email frequency.
Now’s the time to begin revamping your email marketing to focus on your best customers. Make it easy for them to know what you’re sending them, read it on their phones, and shop directly from your messages to improve your open and conversion rates in the year ahead.
Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelancer who enjoys writing about business development and marketing, e-commerce payments and fraud prevention, and travel.