Email marketing is the bread and butter of almost all B2B businesses today. Since email is one of the top lead generation channels for many businesses, it’s understandable if you feel a sense of panic or even dread when your open rates and click through rates start to decline.
But before you ring the alarm bell, it’s better to take a step back and figure out the root cause of the problem before you jump into possible solutions.
As a marketer, I used to be completely attached to these two metrics: Email open rate and click through rate. I would feel discouraged when I saw these two numbers drop. After all, I’d put a lot of effort into the copy and the subject lines!
But over time, I’ve realized that it’s harmful to be too fixated on email metrics such as open rates and click through rates. These metrics tell you that something is happening, but they don’t tell you the whole story.
Below, I’ll share a story about how our marketing team responded to declining email performance metrics, including why crafting the right email strategy to match your target audience needs to be the ultimate goal. Then, I’ll offer some tips on how to boost your email engagement.
What happened to our email performance last month
In the past couple of months, our marketing team saw a significant drop in the performance of our emails.
When I saw these numbers, I immediately went into problem-solving mode. I asked myself: Do we have a subject line problem? Do we have a copy problem? Do we have a segmentation problem?
Even more importantly, I haven’t even considered this basic question: Have there been changes in whom we’re emailing?
To figure out if we truly have an engagement problem, we need to know the composition of our database and understand how that is changing over time. Here are the questions to consider:
- Are we adding new contacts into our database at a faster rate than before?
- If so, where did they come from? What are the sources of new email addresses on our list?
- What’s the first message sent to new subscribers?
- Are new subscribers being mailed in the same campaigns as existing subscribers, or have they been separated from our general population and mailed separately?
- Have we recently mailed a segment of contacts we haven’t emailed in a long time?
In our case, although there hasn’t been a significant change in the type of people we are adding into our database, the stories we’ve been sending to our audience are now different. The people who were receptive to the old stories are not receptive to the new stories.
In the past few months, most of our nurture emails were sent to demand generation marketers and we sent them blog posts about how to use intent data from social media to nurture leads and accelerate them through the funnel.
But about a month ago, we’d changed our product positioning. To support our new product positioning, we started to send people email content on how to use social media to grow brand awareness and add leads at the top of the funnel.
Because the recent content we sent was not appealing to a lot of the people in our database, they stopped opening our emails.
Additionally, we realized that we were lumping many of our brand-new leads in with our existing subscribers. The majority of new leads we are acquiring through our own app were not getting any sort of “welcome emails” to warm them up – they were receiving our nurture emails right away.
We shouldn’t be sending these relatively cold leads our blog posts and whitepapers before sending them a welcome email that gives them context on who we are and why we’re sending them content.
Here’s an example of a good welcome email from CoSchedule, which is a marketing calendar tool. In this email, they reminded me that I did in fact choose to subscribe, set my expectations about the types of content they will be sending, and provided a link to their free trial.
Also, we realized that over half of our database have not opened one of our emails in the past 90 days. We need to put together a campaign to re-engage them. And if they are still not doing anything with our emails after that point, we should delete them from our list.
A Better Set of Email Metrics
Email open rate is a directional metric, and as such, it’s an imperfect measure of people’s engagement with your content.
Email opens aren’t always trackable due to a variety of reasons. For example, plain-text emails aren’t registered as opens. There are also differences between mobile devices. Some mobile devices don’t report a message as opened even if it is. Other environments like Outlook, register messages as opened, even if they were merely skimmed and never opened in a dedicated window.
Similarly, while click tracking is much more accurate than open tracking, it has its own limits. Click-through rate does tell you whether someone found your content interesting enough to click it, but not how long they stayed on that page or how engaged they really were.
So if email opens and clicks don’t tell the whole story, what should you be measuring?
This experience made me realize that rather than focusing on a couple of easy-to-measure KPIs (open rates and click through rates), it’s better to look at email metrics in a more holistic fashion. These metrics together will tell you the whole story:
Deliverability Rate – this metric tells you how many of your attempted sends actually reached your users. If you have issues with email deliverability, that is the problem you need to focus on, not email engagement. You can try these fixes to improve your sending reputation and thus the success of your campaigns.
Open Reach – Open reach measures the number of email list subscribers who opened any of your emails over a specific period of time like a month or quarter rather than a measure of specific opens per campaign.
This metric helps you understand who your repeat versus one-time openers are during a given period.
Click Through Rate Should be Considered Alongside Completed Call to Actions or Conversions
Instead of focusing purely on click through rates, look at click through rates alongside completed call to actions. You can also take a longer-term perspective by measuring click-through reach and conversion reach.
Once you’ve looked at these metrics together and you’ve identified that your problem is really with email engagement, then you can go through the usual checklist of things to test or fix. Below are a few quick ideas on how you might increase the impact of your emails.
Tailor Your Email Campaigns to Your Audience
Out of all the factors that affect email open rates, the biggest one for us is that we have exhausted our database. Because we had made a pivot in our target audience and our core product positioning, it feels jarring for our existing leads to get emails on a new topic all the sudden.
Therefore, we can’t simply entice these people to open our emails just by writing better copy. We need to rebuild our database and fill it with the right audience. This will take a us a few months to do. Meanwhile, we’ll develop “transitional content” to warm this audience gradually to our new value propositioning.
Use data to figure out the right times to send your emails
Most business emails are sent out during the workweek during business hours. But do you really want to be competing with all these other businesses for your customers’ precious attention?
An Experian study found that emails sent out on Saturday and Sunday had the highest open and click-through rates. In the same study, they found that recipients are most active late at night. Unique open rates averaged 21.7 percent from 8pm to 11:59 pm. Moreover, this late night group was more likely to click through, with open rates of 4.2 percent and 3.2 percent respectively.
Instead of sending out emails when you’re at working, experiment with your send times to see what time slots work best for your target audience.
Got a global audience? If so, you can segment your subscribers into different time zones, and strive to send emails to be receivable at a reasonable time for all subscribers. You can also use analyze subscribers’ past open histories and send an email at the most optimal time to be opened for that subscriber.
Segment your database
Although there’s a lot of talk right now against flooding people’s inbox, data shows that people can be receptive to more frequent email communications as long as they find these emails valuable.
After testing 5 types of personalization techniques, LeadGenius was able to get a 86% open rate on a cold email.
As this data shows, digital marketing company SimpleRelevance increased the send frequency of a travel site from twice a month to weekly emails and added dynamic templates for customized content based on how subscribers responded to several channels. This resulted in 278% increase in average monthly pageviews and 60% fewer bounces in email sends.
The key to making this work is that you reallly need to know who you are targeting and specifically why they would benefit from taking an action – whether it’s downloading an e-book or purchasing your product.
The more that you’re able to use behavioral data about your target audience in your emails, the more responses you’ll generate.
Thanks to the accessibility of data enrichment services like ClearBit, Full Contact and Datanyze, you can personalize your emails in a number of ways.
One good way to get a quick win is to tailor to tailor your copy to each of your buyer personas. Why? Because each of your buyer personas have different job expertise, familiarity with tools and thus information needs.
When Clearbit decided to segment their welcome email drip campaign for trial users of their product based on a user’s role (developer versus marketer), they got a 64% open rate on each email.
Furthermore, consider segmenting your database by industry. Do you have a high concentration of marketers who sell high tech products in your database? Consider tailoring your email to speak to them. It could be as simple as putting together an extra phase in your subject line:
“See how B2B SaaS marketers are using [your product category] to achieve [Goal X]”
Use Social Media Insights to Create Intent-Based Emails
Here at Socedo, we use behavioral data collected from leads’ social media activities to segment them into email nurture programs.
Once a lead is in our database, we start to monitoring their activities on Twitter to see if they are mentioning any key topics, events, competitors, influencers or buzzwords related to our business.
Once a lead takes a social action, this data gets added onto their lead record in our marketing automation platform. With this data, we’re able to trigger personalized emails to each person in real-time. We can send messaging that references the lead’s recent Tweet in the subject line and cater to their intent.
Our “Content Marketing” campaign has been one of the most successful. Based on keywords like #ContentMarketing, @CMIContent, and @GuyKawasaki, we’ve found hundreds of B2B content marketers and converted them at a 6% rate (they filled out a form on our website) —slightly higher than our 5.4% Socedo average. It’s also been one of our longest running campaigns, with so many content marketers to engage with on Twitter.
For months, this email has maintained a 44.7% open rate, 3.1% click-through rate, and a 0.4% unsubscribe rate. These open and click rates are about 50% higher than our usual nurture emails.
Next time you see your email open rate or CTR drop, you’ll know that these easy-to-see metrics don’t tell the whole story. There are many different reasons why your emails are under-performing; it could be a segmentation problem, a timing issue, a copy problem or a mismatch between audience and message. You won’t get to the heart of the problem unless you take a step-by-step approach and look at a holistic set of metrics.
And instead of relying on conventional wisdom or organizational habits, use data to make sure that every aspect of your email strategy – from copy, content, segmentation and timing – is tailored to your target audience.
If you have any questions about email performance and personalization, I’d love to chat!