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Email Advertising Still Delivers Productive Ad Results

  |  October 16, 2012   |  Comments

With so much potency in email, media planners would be remiss not to consider all the advertising options of this channel.

While much ado has been paid to all kinds of new and exciting online advertising options lately - social, mobile, video - an old workhorse, email, tends not to get much attention these days. Some newly released research, however, ought to have marketers and media planners taking a second look at this still viable and productive channel. Let's briefly review some of the findings:

  • In August, the Pew Internet Project found that email, along with search, still tops the list of the most popular online adult activities, with 92 percent overall penetration among users and 60 percent daily usage.
  • Around the same time, eMarketer released its "Email Marketing Benchmarks: Key Data, Trends and Metrics" in which it predicts the continued steady growth of email through 2016. "For marketers trying to reach consumers, email remains one of the best ways to find them." EMarketer goes on to analyze the consumption of email by mobile device and reminds marketers to treat these campaigns differently.

  • Message Systems' "Marketing Channel and Engagement Benchmark Survey" found that despite the rising popularity of social media, email still delivers significantly higher ROI.
  • Speaking of email and social, in June a Yesmail Interactive study revealed that for retailers, coordinated timing is everything. "If email campaigns were sent out before social campaigns, those emails drive social engagement [by increases of up to 100 percent] via share buttons and calls to action that promote interaction with the brand."

Capitalizing on Email Advertising Opportunities

With so much potency in email, media planners would be remiss not to consider all the advertising options of this channel, and there are several:

  • Email newsletter advertising ("sponsorships"). A top-performer, almost every publisher who sends out email newsletters to their own subscriber base sells ad space in them in the form of banners or text + logo placements (ClickZ being no exception).
  • Solo HTML emails. An email delivered by a publisher in which the entire email content is a single advertiser's offer, this ad buy can also be geo- and/or demographically-targeted based on the publisher's ability. These email buys tend to be the most expensive, but ultimately yield the most cost-effective results for a single drop.

  • Email list rental. Though the deployment process and ad deliverable looks the same as a solo HTML email, the source of an email list rental isn't a digital publisher but instead an email list aggregator. With email list rental, working through a reputable list owner is crucial if you want to avoid having your email tagged as spam. Email list rental can be highly targeted, particularly for hard-to-find B2B niche audiences.
  • "eTOC." The acronym for "email table of contents," this typically high-open-rate exclusive advertising opportunity is unique to trade or medical journals (often paying subscribers).


Email newsletter and eTOC sponsorships lend themselves more to branding as they offer a broad reach but lower immediate action rates. Solo email opportunities should either be used for offers in a direct response capacity or to drive engagement, like taking a survey or a poll, playing a game, or priming the recipient for a social media campaign.

Do's and Don'ts of Email Advertising


  • Develop benchmarks and compare the results of multiple email deliveries to see which are most effective and why.
    • Note the calendar and which days of the week tend to perform better for your campaign objective.
  • Pay attention to landing pages and the path of least resistance to the actual conversion.
  • For email list rental:
    • Perform A/B testing of ad creative, subject lines, lists.
    • Question list rental vendors on:
      • Which software they use to deploy messages to their list.
      • Do they comply with CAN-SPAM?
      • Are they bonded?
      • How often do they scrub their list?
      • How much do they over-deliver to accommodate undeliverables and bounce-backs?
      • Can they personalize the delivery of your message by recipient's first name?
  • Cross-promote between multiple mediums (email, social, display, and search).


  • Send every email drop to the same landing page.
  • Prevent a visitor to a landing page from going elsewhere on the site to learn more.
  • Send bulk emails without personalization.
  • Over-deliver to any one list or newsletter.
  • Use the same ad creative every time. Mix it up over time for testing and better results.
  • Neglect to track actions on this site in a way that can correlate back to a specific drop.

Though it's not sexy, email advertising works. And isn't that what the advertiser is paying the media planner for?

Isolated Laptop image on home page via Shutterstock.

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Hollis Thomases

A ClickZ expert columnist since 2005, Hollis Thomases (@hollisthomases) is president and founder of Maryland-based WebAdvantage.net, an online marketing company that provides results-centric, strategic Internet marketing services, including online media planning, SEO, PPC campaign management, social media marketing, and Internet consulting. Author of Twitter Marketing: An Hour a Day and an award-winning entrepreneur, Hollis is the Maryland 2007 SBA Small Business Person of the Year. Hollis speaks extensively on online marketing, having presented for ClickZ, the American Marketing Association, SES, The Newsletter and Electronic Publishers Association, The Kelsey Group, and the Vocus Worldwide User Forum. WebAdvantage.net's client list has included Nokia USA, Nature Made Vitamins, Johns Hopkins University, ENDO Pharmaceuticals, K'NEX Construction Toys, and Visit Baltimore. The agency was recognized as a "Small Giant" by the Greater Baltimore Tech Council and was chosen as a "Best Place for Business Women to Work" by "Smart Woman Magazine."

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