Email newsletters are suddenly hot again. The past few weeks have seen the release of a new report on email newsletter usability by Jakob Nielsen, articles published on successful email newsletters in more than one industry association newsletter, and conferences for publishers (would-be and existing) abounding. These are just things I’ve run across.
I, for one, am thrilled to see it happen since I develop and upgrade email newsletters for a living. I’ve worked with over 170 different e-newsletters, from high-end projects with lots of money to spend to shoestring efforts, including launching my own email newsletter.
I strongly believe high-quality email newsletters are the marketing medium of the future. More appealing to a reader than a standalone sales pitch email, they give organizations a chance to build a long-term relationship with prospects and customers.
Though effective, a successful email newsletter takes more to develop than most people realize. Here are the three most-asked questions I hear from clients. I’ve included my answers, of course, and some supporting research and statistics.
Text or HTML?
The short answer is both. You should offer your email newsletter in both formats. Let recipients choose which they want to receive.
Some studies suggest subscribers overwhelmingly prefer text email, while those sending prefer HTML. In my experience, recipients will choose HTML about 80 percent of the time when given the choice. You still want to offer text for the 20 percent who prefer it. Technology that allows both text and HTML to be sent then shows the HTML-capable recipients that version is another option. Just be sure there’s some sort of override for the person who wants text, even though her email client can read HTML.
Opt-In or Double Opt-In?
I’m showing my age here. Back in the mid- to late 1990s, double, or confirmed, opt-in was the gold standard for email. It requires a recipient to confirm he has signed up to receive an email newsletter by responding to a confirmation email. Early in this decade, double opt-in fell out of favor, and single opt-in became the sign-up mechanism of choice. But...
In recent weeks, two well-known email newsletter publishers moved back to double opt-in. Both cite increased concerns over spam and a wish to ensure no one signed up friends (or worse, enemies), which would result in unsolicited email sent to those addresses. (My own newsletter will likely move to double opt-in before year’s end.)
If you’re starting a new email newsletter, seriously consider going with double opt-in. The downside: A certain percentage of those who initially opt-in will neglect to confirm. In my experience, confirmed by others in the industry, this will run about 20 percent. But you’ll have an engaged list of people who you are confident really do want to receive your newsletter. You’ll have a high level of protection against spam accusations. If you carry advertising, your readership will be much more attractive to advertisers and media buyers and command higher rates than single opt-in.
What’s a Good Open/Click-Through Rate?
Unlike direct mail, where a 2 percent response rate is considered good, hard-and-fast benchmarks don’t really exist in email. That said, here are some guidelines:
Opt-in News recently reported a 69 percent average open rate for opt-in business-to-business (B2B) email newsletters. In general, 60 percent or higher is considered excellent. I see a unique open rate (counting one open per unique email address) in the 70 to 75 percent range for my newsletter. My total opens usually run around 150 percent (this counts each instance of an open, so includes people who open it more than once as well as pass-along opens). If you’re seeing a unique open rate under 50 percent, you probably want to work on increasing this metric.
This is such a broad topic, and there’s so much to say! My next column will continue with setting goals for your email newsletter, developing a registration page to encourage sign-ups, and finding affordable sources of editorial content.
Are you publishing or thinking of launching an email newsletter? Let me know what issues you’d like to see addressed in future columns, and I’ll do my best to include them.
Until next month,
Please join us at ClickZ Email Strategies in San Francisco, November 18-19.
Meet Your Favorite ClickZ Contributors
Many of ClickZ's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Jeremy Hull, Lisa Raehsler, Andrew Goodman, Bryan Eisenberg, Mathew Sweezey, Aaron Kahlow, Stephanie Miller, Simms Jenkins, Jeanne S. Jennings, Dave Hendricks and more!
Jeanne Jennings is a 20 year veteran of the online/email marketing industry, having started her career with CompuServe in the late 1980s. As Vice President of Global Strategic Services for Alchemy Worx, Jennings helps organizations become more effective and more profitable online. Previously Jennings ran her own email marketing consultancy with a focus on strategy; clients included AARP, Hasbro, Scholastic, Verizon and Weight Watchers International. Want to learn more? Check out her blog.
March 19, 2014