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Answers to Your E-mail Questions

  |  March 19, 2008   |  Comments

Why open rates are declining, comparing HTML and text e-mail, and how to get BlackBerry users to read e-mail marketing messages.

"Why are my open rates declining?"

"What gets higher click rates: HTML or text e-mail?"

"How can I get BlackBerry users to read my e-mail?"

If you and your marketing staff have been asking yourselves these questions lately, the recent E-mail Marketing Metrics Report from MailerMailer can provide new insights.

Here are some report highlights that speak directly to issues my clients are experiencing.

Your E-mail and Their BlackBerrys

The report, which tracks the unique open rates for MailerMailer's customers, shows a 2 percent decline in open rates for the second half of 2007, which indicates a long-term industry trend. However, this period's drop may be due to the proliferation of e-mail being viewed on handheld devices, which aren't accounted for in open-rate statistics. According to the report, "Open rates began declining in 2004, when more people started using e-mail programs that disable automatic image downloading by default."

To track open rates, HTML e-mail contains a 1 pixel x 1 pixel invisible image. When recipients enable images to display when they read the message, the sending servers are able to track when the image was displayed and by whom. This is the open rate you see in reports. When images are blocked, the open can't be tracked.

Open rates are becoming less accurate with many people reading e-mail on handheld devices and disabling image downloading. The fact that click rates have remained fairly steady suggests that people are still reading the messages even though fewer opens are being reported.

While you can't track open rates on your messages that are read on handhelds, a recent MailerMailer e-newsletter recommends these steps for increasing readership:

  1. Create a mobile-phone version of your newsletter optimized for a phone's screen. Include only a small version of your logo for images. The rest of the content should be easy-to-read text that can be scanned quickly.

  2. In the mobile-phone version, include a link to the full edition of your newsletter so readers can peruse it on their desktops.

  3. When users sign up to your newsletter, give them the option to receive the mobile-phone edition.

HTML vs. Text

Every time I conduct a corporate training session or give a conference presentation, the number one question is "Which performs better: HTML or text?" The answer is always the same: "It depends; you'll have to test it."

However, over 95 percent of MailerMailer's customer recipients opt to receive HTML-formatted messages instead of text. If that's what people request, that's what they get.

Yes, you can send an occasional text-only message to your HTML readers to vary message formats over the course of a campaign, but I think in this case "the people have spoken." It's HTML, all the way.

When Opens Occur

According to MailerMailer, "74 percent of all opens occur within the first 24 hours." This statistic really shows e-mail's immediacy and power. Within just 24 hours, you can dramatically spike your sales revenues, decisively test an offer, and instantly gather important market intelligence.

Keep in mind that some recipients will open your e-mail weeks after delivery or even longer, so make sure your images, links, and landing pages remain accessible.

Best Day to Send E-mail

Mondays, Tuesdays, and weekends are the best times to send e-mail. In some ways, this trend is counterintuitive. You'd think that people would be so busy getting back to work on Monday, they wouldn't bother with extraneous e-mail beyond the most important need-to-know messages. But it may be that this intensive inbox concentration focuses more attention on all e-mail.

No matter. Test moving up your e-mail send rates to earlier in the week. And keep in mind that messages sent on Tuesdays get the highest click rates, which means people may find the time to read your e-mail once they're in the swing of the work week.

Consider testing a weekend e-mail blast, since weekend readership continues to increase. But it seems that you should avoid sending e-mail on Fridays at all costs; that day registers the lowest open rates. Keep in mind, however, that these are aggregate metrics for many industries. Restaurants and entertainment venues as well as retail stores may find that sending an e-mail on Thursdays or Fridays is a prime time to spur weekend planning and purchases.

Industry Benchmarks

I have to say that I'm always flummoxed when I give a presentation and people ask me typical open and click-through rates for their industry, as if I would know those numbers off the top of my head.

While it's not important for me to know your industry benchmarks, it's critical for you to know how you compare. Take a look at MailerMailer's report now, which gives average click-through rates for over 20 industry categories. Jot down those metrics and consult other industry sources, so you always have the most up-to-date statistics.

Now that we are in recessionary times, you'll be under increasing pressure to justify your e-mail marketing results -- so be prepared!

Tell Karen how your e-mail marketing is responding to new recessionary pressures.

Want more e-mail marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our e-mail columns, organized by topic.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Karen Gedney

Karen Gedney, an award-winning creative director and copywriter, shared her insights as a ClickZ Experts contributor from 2000 through 2009. She was known for her successful track record of achieving high e-mail response rates for Fortune 1000 companies and leading organizations. She died Nov. 16, 2010.

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