Back-to-Business E-Mail Optimization

Back-to-school time is also back-to-business time. Set aside a few hours this final week of summer to freshen up your e-mail program and take advantage of the silence before the rush. Here are five ways to quickly improve reader satisfaction and response rates.

Put on Your E-Mail Suit

Just as we don suits again in September, smarten up your e-mail look with a mini template refresh. A simpler, more streamlined template will focus subscriber attention on key content and the call to action. Gather your creative and content teams and do a quick inventory of all the changes made to your newsletter template in the past nine months. Remove those that no longer make sense. Nearly every program has them:

  • Small image, link, or headline additions requested by the brand, product, or sales teams.
  • The multilink masthead that no longer matches the landing pages.
  • That extra banner at the bottom promoting a special event that never seemed to go away.
  • A bunch of social network links that no one has clicked on. Usually, you’ll find two or three that your subscribers actually use. Keep those and give them breathing room so they are more appealing and inviting.
  • Extra legal or other language in the footer.

Protect Against Failure

Ask everyone on your team to make sure the unsubscribe link works. Take a quick look at this year’s data: is the unsubscribe rate erratic, growing, or steady? If it’s erratic, you may find certain message types or frequency caps need to change. If it’s growing, your subscribers may be moving to a new life stage and are uninterested in the content, or a new source of data may be signing up subscribers ill-suited to your brand and content. Both of these are great segmentation opportunities. Even if your unsubscribe rate is steady and low, ensure that your ISP complaint rate (tracked via clicks on the “report spam” button) is also steady and low. It could be that subscribers can’t find or don’t trust your unsubscribe link, and they are complaining instead.

Adopt a New Attitude

Gather some new information about subscribers and use it to test content or segmentation strategies in September. Run a few instant polls to gauge how important key demand drivers are to your subscribers. Ask for a vote on some product taglines you’re considering. Make it fun to get more participation by featuring the results on your Facebook fan page, inviting comments that you can share back, or keep a Twitter tally of the response in real time.

Arm Yourself for the Crush

Just as traffic swells on the highways and commuter trains this time of year, the e-mail transit way also fills up as marketers promote their autumn offerings and gear up for the holidays and the end of the year. And just like in any other rush hour, the more e-mail traffic, the higher likelihood that your messages will wait in line or be filtered. Check your sender reputation every day that you send broadcast mailings; it only takes a minute if you have access to inbox placement data.

If you don’t have this data, get it from a deliverability service, demand it from your e-mail service provider (ESP), or even check simple diagnostics at SenderScore or DNSstuff. Sender reputation is directly tied to inbox reach, and the best senders enjoy inbox placement rates in the 95-plus percentile. Don’t be fooled by ESP reports of delivered messages (usually only the inverse of your bounce rate of 2 percent to 5 percent). Even for permission-based marketers, about 20 percent of that delivered e-mail is filtered or blocked and never reaches the inbox. You can’t earn a response if you aren’t in the inbox. Imagine the immediate boost on all your response metrics when you move your inbox placement rate up 10 or more points.

Make New Friends

You likely already read a number of blogs or e-newsletters that cover topics relevant to your brand and are important to your audience. Audit these for new, fresh voices and then regularly link to those Web sites in your e-newsletter as part of a regular “view from the world” feature. Your subscribers will appreciate the additional heads up to interesting or helpful articles, and you’ll start to build a network of expertise and potential referrals back to your business.

Make sure these tasks are on your to-do list. Do them in the coming days and get back to business a bit stronger and ready to optimize. Let me know what you think below.

Related reading