Email Marketing Best Practices for 2016

Victor Amin
Data Scientist
SendGrid Inc.
Blogger
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Email delivery platform SendGrid analysed the marketing emails it delivered during Black Friday and Cyber Monday in 2015. SendGrid data scientist Victor Amin explains the results and reveals the best practices for marketers around peak sales periods.

According to The Guardian, email marketing drove companies like Adobe to a 25% increase in sales during Black Friday and Cyber Monday last year, compared to 2014. Statistics like theses show that email is still one of the most effective forms of online marketing during peak sales periods, so it’s in a marketer’s best interest to know what will get them the best results. Our study reveals some important insights for email marketers, regardless of the time of year.

Think twice before putting a discount in your subject line

One of the most common tactics used to increase engagement is to include a percentage discount in the subject line of your emails. Of the marketing emails sent on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, 38% included a discount in the subject line, with the most common being ‘20% off’ followed by ‘50% off’, and other discount percentages were much rarer.

However, it turns out this tactic isn’t as successful as marketers might think, as it’s not actually correlated with stronger engagement. Our study found that emails that did not have a discount in the subject line had higher engagement rates and, when we looked at only the emails that offer discounts, we found that there is no statistically significant correlation between the size of the discount offered in a subject line and engagement with that email.

Test your emails first

So discount offers don’t always result in higher engagement. In fact, they may have a negative effect on your engagement rates. However, the only way to know for sure is by testing your subject lines. A/B testing is one of the best ways to measure the success of your email marketing campaign. Try creating two or three different email campaigns, then send them out to segmented groups. Based on click-through rate and engagement, pick the most well-received email campaign as the winner for your big email blast. Feel free to experiment with subject lines, including ones that don’t offer your subscribers a discount.

Purge uninterested readers

For every increase in reader engagement, there is also an increase in unsubscribes, but unsubscribes aren’t always a bad thing. If a recipient has signed up for your marketing list but then changes their mind, it’s important that they have a clear and easy method to unsubscribe. If they’re looking for the unsubscribe button they’re clearly unlikely to purchase, and if they can’t find that button they’re more likely to flag your email as spam, which is bad for your sending reputation and infringes on your deliverability. If you don’t feel comfortable with making the unsubscribe button more prominent, offer recipients a chance to “down-subscribe” or opt-out of certain emails in a preference centre. This removes recipients from the extra emails rather than having to see them unsubscribe from your service altogether.

Think beyond the sales

Peak shopping days mark huge sales opportunities for businesses, but they also give marketers a chance to build up their database for the rest of the year. Capitalise on the opportunity by creating multiple options for customers to sign up for your mailing list on your website or mobile app. Sign up messages should be short; each time someone new signs up for marketing email, send them a stellar welcome email, which is personalised and creates a good first brand impression.

Be wary of email fatigue

Often email fatigue results in more than just unengaged recipients. Sending multiple emails per day can lead to fatigued and annoyed recipients, which results in users blocking, unsubscribing and sending messages to spam. Remember to keep your recipient list as clean as possible. Well-maintained lists consistently have higher engagement rates than older, neglected lists. Make sure you segment your list by engagement and remove addresses that haven’t been engaged for a long time. Building a negative reputation with ISPs can have a major impact on your marketing efforts, which affects the bottom line of your business.

Optimise your email for mobile

People are increasingly reading email on mobile devices. Our data shows that there is an increase in response times on mobile when compared with desktops. In fact, recipients click on the calls-to-action within emails viewed from a mobile device 18 percent more quickly than on their desktops.

Marketers need to meet the demand for a compelling consumer experience across multiple platforms when it comes to their email marketing campaigns. Most email templates are designed for a standard desktop which is too wide for most phones and could result in preventing horizontal scrolling. Include a plain text version in HTML email and make use of responsive design templates. In general, .jpg, .gif, .png and .pdf attachments are safe to send, provided you include some content in the email as well. However, executable attachments such as .exe, .zip, .swf, etc. should be avoided entirely.

While it may seem like including the percentage discount of your sale is low-hanging fruit for improving engagement rates, these results show that it is not necessarily the case. Having said this, every business and email list is different, so we suggest that you test what works and what doesn’t with your recipients. By A/B testing, you can determine which tactic works best for you.

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