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How to Maximize Your Email ROI, Part II: Crafting the Email

Our first post in this series talked about improving returns from your email program by growing your email list. In fact, we talked so much about the list that the message itself barely even got a mention! So like most great Hollywood sequels, we’ll be keeping things interesting in the second part by introducing a new character: The Email.

Of course, the art of building emails is hardly something that can be covered in a single sequel. Email development is practically its own expanded universe filled with backstory and characters (in fact, you’ve probably encountered a few characters in the email world), so this post will focus on a few tweaks that will boost your email program’s revenue potential. By their powers combined, the Email List and the Email will save the town send your ROI sky-high.

Beyond The Subject Line: Getting More Opens with Friendly Froms and Preheaders

Email marketers spend a lot of time thinking about subject lines. After all, readers see the subject before they even open the email, and 33% of readers report opening email based on subjects alone. But it’s only part of what your readers see before they click, so don’t neglect the other parts of how your unread email appears: your display name and preview text.

While a third of readers are looking at the subject line, 42% say that the first thing they look at is who sent the email. That’s why it’s important to make sure the name in the “from” field is a name they trust. An Influence and Co. study saw improved marketing email performance when the display name was more informative. For instance, if you send from an individual, clarify their position, such as “[Name] at [Company].” Needless to say, this won’t apply to all industries, so test what resonates most with your audience (we’ll cover testing in the final blog post).

Now, let’s talk preview text. When you don’t provide your own, email clients display the first part of your email. In most cases, this ends up being a URL or, “To view this in your browser, click here.” Neither is particularly helpful, which means you’re wasting valuable real estate that can be used to convince readers to click. It’s practically like having a second subject line to play with, so use it to your advantageto supplement the subject line.

How do you change your preview text? The simplest way is to just make your desired preview text the first line of your email, but if a line of text at the top will throw off your otherwise flawless design, you can code your preheader so that the text is invisible in the email itself. Keep in mind that not all email clients will display preheader text. Older versions of Outlook don’t show previews, so use the text to further entice your reader to open, but don’t make it vital to understanding the message.

For example, Wired uses their subject line to display their newsletter’s most interesting headline, while the preheader lists a few other highlights. It increases the odds that readers will see something they want to read, it doesn’t leave out readers who can’t see preheaders, and most of all, it’s a whole lot more appealing than “Please turn display images on.”

One last note about going after opens: whatever your unopened email says, it has to live up to the hype. If your email is opened and it disappoints, you’re setting yourself up for failure, or worse: getting a spam complaint. You don’t just want opens; you want opens who are likely to convert, which is why you need to create emails that convert. It starts with the call-to-action.

Building Emails Around the Call-to-Action

You send emails for a purpose. Unless that purpose is just to break the world record for most emails sent, it’s probably because you want your readers to do something. That “something” is your call-to-action. Without it, you’re just saying hi, which is a perfectly nice thing to do, but it doesn’t get that 3800% ROI. Just ask Walmart greeters.

When your email ROI depends on getting users to act, it’s important to create emails with the user in mind. That’s why each component of your email should logically lead to your call to action. Building your email around the call-to-action provides a clear path to conversion for readers, and it also helps you hone your focus as you create the email. So how do you do it?

  • Write clear, concise copy (you can test this with the Hemingway Editor)
  • Incorporate graphics that lead towards the CTA
  • Make effective use of white space to guide eyes comfortably to the CTA
  • Reduce target confusion by limiting the email to a single CTA, if possible
  • Don’t bury the CTA at the bottom of a long-winded email
  • Don’t place it before any copy necessary to convince them to convert

A blog post about creating emails that convert could be its own three-part series of blog posts (or even a Matryoshka doll series of blog post trilogies), but we’ll stick to basics because we’ve still got to talk about the call-to-action itself. A good CTA:

  • Stands out from the rest of the email
  • Creates a sense of urgency
  • Appears in both button and text form
  • Gets to the point: as a rule of thumb, the CTA is typically 5 words or fewer

It’s worth mentioning that “building around the call-to-action” doesn’t end inside the inbox. Your conversion-oriented emails should send readers to an equally conversion-oriented landing page. Still, before you start thinking about conversions, you have to make sure your emails aren’t leaving anyone in your audience behind.

Mobile-Optimized Emails Are a Must

At this point, mobile-optimization isn’t just a luxury for the most seasoned email programs; it’s a basic necessity. 54% of all emails are opened on mobile, and unless you’re sending emails to a Cassette Tape of the Month Club, your own email list is probably up with the times too. To join your audience in this century, design your emails with the mobile screen in mind.

Because of the reduced screen size, the user experience is even more important on mobile email. 71% will simply delete an email that doesn’t look good on mobile, so you’ll need to take extra steps to ensure users don’t have to stretch and squint just to read your message. As any email developer will tell you, that’s easier said than done. Some techniques for mobile email optimization include:

  •  Scalable design: Best used by marketers who want to be mobile-friendly but don’t have the time or skill to incorporate more advanced techniques. Surpassed by other design principles, scalable is easy to implement but limited in scope.
  • Fluid-hybrid design: Developed with Gmail in mind, the fluid tables and conditional comments of this technique should be used to accommodate trickier email clients, such as Outlook.
  • Responsive design: Uses CSS media queries to shape email layout. Now that 75% of email clients support responsive HTML, responsive is well on its way to becoming an industry norm. You can get started by downloading a free responsive email template.

Don’t forget: while you’re optimizing landing pages for conversions, it’s important to make them mobile friendly too. Email conversion rates are lower on mobile, and while poorly-designed emails or the general mobile experience may be to blame, it’s possible that clunky landing pages may be the culprit. Either way, if your emails and landing pages are leaving out users, they’re leaving behind money too.

Monetizing your Email Program

Marketers turn to email for its unparalleled ability to drive eCommerce revenue and digital publishing subscriptions. It’s easy to forget email’s potential as a handy source of revenue in and of itself. By incorporating in-email advertisements into your strategy, you can build an email program that pays for itself and more: some publishers make the majority of their revenue from their email programs.

Why are email advertisements so effective? First, the email environment is contained, which leads to in-email ads demanding more of the reader’s attention. The small, unobtrusive ads don’t hamper the user experience like the weighty web banners that have inspired users to download ad blocking software in droves. In fact, they’re largely beyond the realm of those ad blockers, meaning you get to hold onto more of your ad revenue. Combine all that with email’s higher CPMs, and you’ve got a no-brainer for email ROI success.

In-email ad solutions, such as those powered by LiveIntent, allow senders like the Washington Post to put ads in front of a captive audience. Your email list gives advertisers access to first-party data, which makes your emails valuable real estate for advertisers. If you use this data for list segmentation (we’ll talk about that next time too), or if you send out newsletters tailored towards certain subjects, advertisers can be sure their advertisements are appearing before the audience that will be most receptive to them.

Finally, you can put your targeted audiences to use by sending promotional emails to parts of your list once or twice a month. As someone who’s probably a receiver of emails yourself, surely you know that sending too many promotional emails is a quick way to the unsubscribe/spam button, but strategic emails can put useful information before an interested audience (and more revenue in your pocket).

“So, my email is done. Can I send it now and watch the money roll in?”

Not yet! To reach your maximum ROI potential, you can’t just hit “send” and hope for the best in each email campaign. A profitable email program is about continuous evaluation and tweaking, which means that you’ll have to put in a bit of thought before and after you hit the button.

In the final part of our blog series (unless you count the inevitable direct-to-VHS spinoff), we’ll talk about some of the things involved in sending the email: list segmentation, testing your emails, automation, and improving your deliverability.

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