How to Maximize Your Email ROI, Part III: Sending the Email
When it comes to movies, the third entry in a series is hardly ever that important. In fact, most trilogies would be better off if they had stopped with the first movie (or in some cases, before). But the email program is a little bit different.
If you’ve been with us since the beginning, the first two parts of this trilogy introduced you to a few list growth tactics and in-email tweaks that can boost the ROI of just about any email program. If you’re just now joining us, you can start from the beginning and binge-read the whole series. Either way, you’re on the right track to arriving at the Email Marketing ROI station, but the improvement process doesn’t end there.
As much as you’d like to, you can’t just hit “send” on that email and then kick back. You find ways to send more effectively. You identify changes that can be made to your email program. You safeguard your emails against the ever-changing standards of deliverability until you’ve reached untold email returns. This is where you squeeze the last few drops of ROI out of your email program.
The real adventure starts here, so hold tight!
The delivery of physical goods is easier than ever. A few clicks in an app can put nearly anything on your doorstep, and in a world where drone delivery is on the horizon, deliverability is only getting easier. Unfortunately, that’s not the case with email. In fact, it’s almost the opposite.
Once an issue of simply avoiding certain words and all-caps subject lines, staying out of the spam folder requires a focus on sender reputation and audience engagement. But keeping your engagement rates high is a lot harder than turning off Caps Lock, and it shows: spam rates increased from 2015 to 2016. Deliverability is getting tougher, but it’s also getting more important. That’s why many ESPs (like PostUp) have dedicated deliverability consultants. Improving deliverability is a critical, though often overlooked, step in email ROI. After all, if your emails aren’t getting to your readers, it’s like you never sent them at all.
When people knock on your door, you typically only open it if you trust them. Inbox providers aren’t much different: sender reputation plays a significant role in whether an email is allowed inside. So what can give your sending IP a bad reputation (apart from blasting Joan Jett)? Sometimes it’s because the reputation was never built up in the first place.
If you start sending from a new IP, your emails won’t get delivered unless you warm up your IP first. Once you establish a reputation, they’ll open the door and let you in. Likewise, to maintain your reputation you must implement any drastic shifts in your sending habits (such as changing ESPs or increasing email volume) gradually. That tells mailbox providers nothing sketchy is up.
Maintaining high engagement rates can also show ESPs that it’s okay to let you in. Of course, that’s easier said than done. Apart from just keeping your end of the bargain and sending good content, sometimes the best hedge against low engagement is providing an easy out. If dissatisfied readers can’t find a link to unsubscribe right away, they’ll hit the panic button and click “mark as spam.” If you rack enough complaints, your hard-earned reputation will fall through the floor.
It’s best to make your unsubscribe link as visible as possible. This cuts down on spam complaints, and it makes sure your least-engaged readers don’t drag you down. Still, losing subscribers doesn’t feel good, so if you want one last chance to hang on to your subscribers, consider implementing a link to a preference center where they can choose to receive fewer emails or more relevant ones.
Finally, it’s important to maintain the health of your email list (the one that we worked so hard to grow in part 1 of this series). Removing inactive subscribers can provide a bump to your overall engagement metrics, but it can also keep you free from spam traps. Sending to dead accounts is a big red flag for mailbox providers, so clearing these addresses regularly can help you make sure the readers who want to see your emails don’t have to go dumpster diving through the spam folder.
Fixing deliverability issues can be a time-consuming process. It would help if there were a way to automate certain parts of your email program.
Offering multiple newsletters to your subscribers allows you to make contact with your audience more times. This is especially true for publishers: more email means more chances for audiences to engage with them, which means more clicks, more visits, and more money. It also requires much more effort to send emails. Right? Not if you’re using automation. At its core, email ROI depends on using the least amount of resources for the highest returns. Automated mailings allow you to spend less time on the tedium of maintaining an email program and more time on important things
You can introduce automation into your program by setting up emails to send automatically when a user completes a particular action. Behavioral-triggered emails (such as confirmation emails) are relevant by nature, resulting in higher open rates. You can use this to your advantage by providing opportunities for engagement in these emails: once they’ve got the okay that they’re looking for, direct them back to a relevant article or a place where they can sign up for additional newsletters. Your reader gets an informative confirmation, and you’ve got yourself a confirmation that you’re doing what you can to achieve sky-high ROI.
You can also automate drip campaigns that reach out to readers at specified intervals. Publishers often cite email as an extremely effective way to nurture casual readers into readers who pay. It’s also a key part of their efforts to retain paid subscribers. Newsletter subscribers are much more likely to become premium subscribers, and throwing automated marketing emails into the mix may provide an additional nudge towards a subscription.
Automation can help you reach readers at the times when it’s most relevant, but you can also automate parts of your email building process. Publishers typically offer multiple newsletters based on particular subjects or verticals. Instead of manually filling these newsletters each day with the top-performing or most relevant articles, you can set up your emails to pull content directly from your CMS or through an RSS feed.
PostUp’s platform allows the automated creation of newsletters, along with flexible human editorial control. When the largest publishers send dozens of email newsletters, automation isn’t just convenient; it’s a necessity.
“The email blast is dead” is a common refrain among email marketers. These blast-blasters insist that marketers must focus instead on targeting audiences with relevant content. If nothing else, that part is true: email is more effective the closer it hits to home, and one way to make your emails work better is to segment your email list, or divide it into more specific sub-sections.
Segmentation allows you to send multiple emails, each designed to resonate with certain parts of your audience, rather than a single umbrella email. If users have provided certain demographic information or indicated a particular interest, you can place them into a segment where they receive email that more closely mirrors them. You can also target users based on when and how often they engage with your email: the most active readers can be placed into a segment that receives more email, while the more email-averse receive email less frequently.
So, how do you decide which users go where? With data, of course. Include your readers in the process by using a preference center where readers indicate what kinds of email they prefer to receive and how often. You can also collect data during the email signup process, though asking readers for too much information at once can deter them from completing the form. It’s best to make sure they submit their email first, then provide them with the option to tell you a bit more about themselves or complete further actions. This can be done with progressive capture forms, as seen below.
Finally, make sure you don’t get so caught up in the pursuit of hyper-segmentation that you lose sight of its purpose. Ultimately, you want to connect with your readers in a way that increases your ROI, but segmenting down to the most granular preferences of your audience can consume more time and resources than it’s worth. Like with many aspects of email marketing, It’s important to find the right balance. That’s where testing comes in.
Email marketers are twice as likely to report having successful email programs if those programs make use of testing practices. It makes sense. Marketers who test emails do so so to identify areas where they can make improvements. If you consistently find small things to tweak for the better, it only follows that your ROI will improve as well. If you’re testing correctly, that is. It’s important to use the testing method that fits your needs.
Many email marketers use A/B (or split) testing. This is a versatile method that can be implemented relatively easily and provides you with quick results, but it limits your capacity to test. As the name suggests, an A/B test allows you to test two variations on a single variable. If you’ve got a whole lot of tests you’re anxious to conduct, you’ll have to do so one at a time.
Multivariate testing can compare more variables at a time while also providing more information about how these variables interact with each other, but this method also requires a much larger sample size. If you don’t have a large enough pool to test, your results won’t be statistically significant enough to justify the effort.
So what areas of an email can you test? Practically anything. You can see whether using certain subject lines or friendly froms results in a higher open rate. You can play around with CTAs to see what drives higher conversion rates. You can even experiment with longer or more conversational copy to determine which styles of communication resonate most with your readers. Small tweaks can make all the difference between a decent email program and an email ROI machine, so it’s important to constantly look out for areas to improve.
We may have reached the end of our Email ROI trilogy, but that doesn’t mean the quest for higher ROI ends here. Email marketing is a never-ending process of constant testing, of gradual improvement, of tweaking those emails until you’re Scrooge McDuck swimming in email ROI.
It’s not for the faint of heart. It’s an adventure that never ends. Now go back to your email program and write your own email adventure trilogy!