The Ultimate 6 Step Guide to Mastering Email Marketing in 2014

January 30, 2014

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The Ultimate 6 Step Guide to Mastering Email Marketing in 2014

Email marketing, proves time and time again to be one of the most effective avenues in digital marketing. Sure, there are countless arguments on whether or not email marketing is dying out, but rather than trying to convince you that email marketing is still 'hip,' I think that results and statistics speak for themselves, so let me give them to you. I took the time to gather information from the most credible sources in email marketing to communicate the following data to you. The most recent averages from all 2013 Email Benchmark Reports (with an analysis of over 2.5 Billion emails) reports the following general averages for emails sent across all industries.

  • Open rate: 21.47%
  • Click-through rate: 3.16%
  • Unsubscribing rate: 0.47%
  • Click-to-open rate: 14.72%
  • Unsubscribe-to-open rate: 2.29%

Although these averages aren't too impressive, B2B sales emails show a 27.97% open rate with a 4.55% click-through rate, which is slightly above the average.

To find out where these emails are being read, we turn to Econsultancy who reports the following data:
  • 23% of Emails read on Mobile
  • 33% of Emails read on Desktop
  • 44% of Emails read on Webmail

Even with new social media connections available through sources like Facebook and Twitter, email can still be a valuable sales tool. In the most recent study conducted by “Mobile Mindset,” results showed that over 60% of people in the US check their phones at least once an hour. So, how is email marketing comparable to social media for businesses? The following data is from Hostpapa:

  • Email marketing spend increased by 60% in 2012 with an average ROI of 4000%, leaving the digital marketing budget share at 17.4% in comparison to social medias 13.7%
  • 94% of businesses use email while only 61% of them use social media.

So, what does all of this data tell us? The answer is NOTHING, unless we use this data as insight into how we are going to master our email marketing efforts. Come with me on this 7 Step journey to mastering your email marketing in 2014. Since I am assuming most people who are reading this article already have experience in email marketing and most likely deal with several lists, let's focus on engaging our subscribers and re-engaging the in active ones.

1. Streamline Your Subject Lines

Before you dive into detailed email marketing strategies, you first have to get people to open your emails. So, what is the first thing that your customers see in your email engagements? Subject lines.  With the focus of re-engaging clients who haven't followed through with received quotes, downloaded marketing materials, or have abandoned their carts, we want to look at what role subject lines play in the matter. Specific to your niche (according to Exact Target's 2013 annual report,) subject lines with words like “profit,” “revenue,” and “money” had the highest performance. On the contrary, subject lines that used words like “asset,” “ROI,” and “industry,” had the worst performance rates. Below is a list of exact words used in B2C emails and their [tooltip text="click to open rates" gravity="n"]The ratio of e-mails that are actually opened by recipients compared to the total e-mails sent in a particular company.[/tooltip].

  • News – 16.2%
  • Update – 4.9%
  • Breaking – 33.5%
  • Alert – 25.9%
  • Bulletin – 12.5%
  • Issue – 8.5%
  • Top Stories – 5.9%
  • Latest – 9%
  • Sale – 54.3%
  • Free and Half Price – Negative 67.6%

As you can see, and are probably surprised by, people are looking for the latest and greatest when they open their emails. It is our job as marketers to figure out what it is that our audience clicks on and why they click on it. In regards to subject lines, the shorter the subject line, the more effective it typically is. To give you an exact metric, subject lines with less than 2 words in addition to subject lines that are more than 14 words had much higher performance rates than subject lines that contained between 2-14 words. What does that tell us?  People are more inclined to click an email with a short subject line because it is direct and straight to the point, but they are also willing to click emails with longer than normal subject lines, because to them, it must be important. Here are some more interesting facts about subject lines:

  • Subject lines with 10 characters or less had over a 55% open rate.
  • There is an average 52% open rate on emails with subject lines in regards to discounts and money-off promotions.
  • Emails sent specific to the brand/company sending them, had an average 39% open rate.

Trust me, when I first looked at this data, I was a little concerned as well, but check out these top performing subject lines from very notable brands:

  • J. Crew - "Sweet." 
  • Journey's - "It's a Boy" 
  • Buckle - "Let's Talk"
  • Sephora - "It's Genius!" 
  • JC Whitney - "Private Sale"
  • Brooks Brothers - "New Arrivals" 

As you can see, even the top dogs are keeping it simple and effective.

2. Avoid Spam Filters

Spam filters work on a point system ini which the filters watch for certain keyword phrases and other elements that will accrue points every time they are found in your email campaigns. The higher the points, the more likely it is that the email will hit the spam box. This is where you have to be careful. While it is important to know which subject lines perform the best, it will not matter if the email doesn't even hit their inbox. So, when you are creating your subject lines, take heed to what alerts spam filters. If you don't, once your campaign reaches a certain number of points (spam score,) all emails go straight to junk folders. There isn't a set number as all thresholds are dependent on different servers. Here are a few examples the type of content that grabs the attention of spam filters, and the average amount of points that you will accrue if you include this content:

  • Talks about money (.193 points)
  • Talks about breakthrough (.232 points)
  • Mortgage sales pitches (.297 points)
  • Talks about an 'urgent' matter (.288 points)
  • Says the words 'Money Back Guarantee' (2.051 points)

Spam scores are rated on a scale of 1-10, and typically you want to keep your spam score between 3.5-5, but preferably on the lower side. It is best to keep it as low as you possible can. Some email marketing platforms will measure your score as you are creating your campaign, so you can keep a tight grasp on where you stand with spam. Here are a few other malpractices that you should avoid, to make sure your spam score stays low.

  • Amateur coders creating messy HTML
  • Creating an HTML email that is only an image as filters will think you are tricking them since they can't read images
  • Saying “test” in the subject line (agencies run into this when sending drafts to clients for approval)
  • Sending multiple emails to the same client or company. Firewalls will catch this right away and assume it is a spam attack.
  • Using Microsoft Word and exporting the code to HTML (That code is also sloppy, and spam filters hate it.)

3. Call-to-Actions

In regards to CTA's (call to actions,) there really is no argument as statistics clearly show that “Click Here” has the highest click rate while “Go” and “Submit” come in 2nd and 3rd. The best tips and practices for CTA's are:

  • Location – This is industry specific, however, a recent study done by Neil Patel on his clients showed that there is average of a 17% increase in conversions for CTA's that are placed on the bottom of site copy rather than the top of middle.
  • Design – Google recently did a study on one of their call to actions by testing 50 different shades of blue until they found the blue that had the highest conversion rate. Again, design will be an aspect of your specific industry, but great design aspects such as color , button copy, hovering effects, etc., have an average of increasing conversions from 20-30%
  • Timing – It is proven that 6am has a 9% higher conversion rate than any other time during the Page 5 day. However, let's look at a more broad spectrum of results based on day of the week and time of day.

4. Engagement and Re-engagement

B2C businesses experience average 73% abandoned cart rate. Implementing strong re- engagement marketing campaigns may be the key factor that makes or breaks your existing and returning customer relationships. Below are two examples; the first example is of a strong re-engagement email, and the second is a poor re-engagement email.

Travelocity: Strong Re-engagement

The following email is interpreted from a recent email campaign ran by booking agency, “Travelocity.” email marketing re-engagement   This email was Travelocity's attempt to re-engage and book clients who had booked in previous years but had not been back to the site since. The two subject lines tested with this campaign were:

  • A – Save an additional 10% for a limited time only.
  • B – As our valued customer, get an extra 10% off for a limited time only.

B had a 10% higher conversion rate than A. The subject lines were also split tested between “10% off” and “15% off,” where 15% off had a 2.3% higher CTO ratio. This entire campaign had a 12.3% conversion rate and sent Travelocity's revenue's through the roof! One thing to note here is the positive tone in this re-engagement email; this email didn't use any accusations and/or 'fix your problem' type of dialogue. The email immediately opened up by letting the customer know they are 'noticed' (expressing value,) and that Travelocity was missing them.

Cycle Surgery: Poor Re-engagement

Cycle Surgery is a large bicycle corporation from the UK. This is an email they sent out to try and gather abandoned cart users by trying to leverage a conversion. This was done with a poorly written and displayed 'transactional' email. email marketing best practices There are quite a few things wrong with this email, which explains the horrible conversion rates that they have on re-engagement (Less than 3%.) Here are just a few malpractices in this email:

  1. The subject line to this email was “Your Cycle Surgery Shopping Basket.” - There is no personality, excitement, or engaging positive tone used in this subject line. And it is in between the floor and ceiling thresholds of 'below 2  words' and 'above 14 words,' as explained above. In all reality, this subject line suggests that they are desperate for a sale. Also keep in mind that the percentages are fairly low for subject lines with direct brand mentioning (39% on average.)
  2. The balance of the image/text ratio in this email is one, horribly positioned, and two, greatly imbalanced.
  3. The email is impersonal and also insinuates that whoever the recipient is “can't make up their mind.” This is a well masked condescending accusation, which is a huge no-no!
  4. There isn't any implemented features like return policies, related items, accessories, free shipping, etc.

5. Make Everything Mobile Friendly

Earlier, we stated that 23% of your emails are being read on mobile; nations like the US have higher percentages and the global average for those who read emails on mobile is currently at 47% and said to reach over 55-57% by the end of the year (according to Litmus and Econsultancy.) Their report on mobile email marketing also states that certain B2C brands see up to 70%+ of their emails being read on mobile devices. With these statistics, it's hard to think anything but responsive. Check out this following infographic: responsive design emails Responsive design can however be a little difficult when trying to reach your clients inboxes. Between passing filters and certain devices not supporting responsive emails, you have to make sure that you know what you are doing when designing, or you hire an experienced designer/coder who can make sure your responsive emails look great and get to the inboxes. Currently, not all responsive emails are not supported by:

  1. iPhone Gmail Applications
  2. iPhone Mailbox Applications
  3. iPhone Yahoo Applications
  4. Android Gmail Applications
  5. Android Yahoo Applications
  6. BlackBerry OS 5
  7. Windows Phone 7
  8. Windows Phone 8

Don't let this scare you however, because it is the main platforms you need to worry about, all of which support responsive emails:

  1. iOs Mail Applications
  2. Android 4.X Email App
  3. Windows Phone 7.5
  4. BlackBerry OS7 and Z10

Another tactic, beyond the responsive design of your email, that you can do to make it very mobile friendly, is to add 'click-to-call' buttons. When offering products and services, using click to call is an effective tool for streamlined communication with little navigation. Gladstone Brooks has a great example of how to utilize click to call: email marketing click to call All rules apply to click to call's in regards to design, responsiveness, etc., however, if this is done right it can be quite effective. Google reported earlier this year that they generated over 2 Billion dollars from mobile marketing; this wouldn't have been accomplished without making their emails mobile friendly. They also reported that click-to-calls generate over 10 million calls a week for their advertisers.

6. Personalize, Segment and Target!

To enhance the effect of one-to-one communication in your email marketing, it is vital that you are using personalization. Salesforce states that personalized emails (with recipients first name,) can increase sales conversion rates by 15-25% and click through rates by 25-35%. They also conducted a survey in which 68% of marketers stated that they are going to use more personal messaging tactics in their email marketing. EpiServer did a global marketing survey in which 14% of email marketers stated that their campaigns get better responses when:

  1. The segment their email data bases
  2. Personalize their messages

They also recommend that you segment your email lists by marketing persona. This allows targeted content to enhance the personalized messages. Side-Note: Many of the sources, and us at Flight Media, highly recommend you send re-engagement emails as a human and not a company. Salesforce even recommends adding a picture in the sign off of re-engagement emails to comfort the customer with a real member of your team.   Let's dig a little deeper. Personalizing and segmenting is all fun in games, but what is happening to the individuals who are clicking through your CTA's? Where are they landing? If your answer to that question isn't "a landing page," then maybe it is time to make a greater effort towards converting. The most important aspect of a landing page, in regards to email campaigns, is relevance. Many marketers make the mistake of providing call-to-actions and links to irrelevant landing pages. Hubspot states that having relevant and focused information in your landing pages can increase your conversion by 55%+. Hubspot also recommends giving free content in order to provide value in exchange for information, such as:

  • eBooks
  • White Papers
  • Case Studies
  • eCourses
  • Podcasts
  • Videos, etc.

In regards to 're-engaging', if you have a customer that has abandoned their cart or not converted quite yet, sending them a email (following all above guidlines,) that offers them a relevant and free information source, is said to increase your chances of conversion by 20-35%.


If you have made it thus far in the article, I will assume that you are a marketer who wants to greatly enhance your email marketing efforts. It is good to keep in mind that there is a huge difference between data and insight. While this article provided TONS of data from relevant and credible sources, it may not all be insightful to your specific case. While you can take this data and use it to make effective decisions, you need to take the time to develop your own data from your email marketing experiences. From there you will be able to develop strategies based off of how your specific list responds to your marketing. Now that is email marketing insight!   25 Traffic Methods

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