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:
- Open rate. This really varies, primarily based on the list you’re sending to and the sender and subject lines. Open rates are also affected by wider use of spam filters. If your newsletter isn’t delivered to recipients’ inboxes, it won’t be opened.
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.
- CTR. No hard-and-fast rule here. A lot depends on content, mission, and number of links in your email newsletter. Reports show email CTRs have decreased in recent years, but not many studies focus exclusively on email newsletters. In my experience, email newsletters have significantly higher CTRs than standalone marketing emails.
I focus on the average CTR per article link in my newsletter, which is just around 10 percent. If you take total clicks and divide by the number of recipients, the CTR is usually in the 50 to 75 percent range. These metrics aren’t out of line with what I’ve seen with other B2B email newsletters I’ve developed. I do realize these metrics seem huge compared to the average click-throughs reported by eMarketer (1.8 percent) and Harte-Hanks (1.3 percent). I believe the difference is the reported statistics measure all email marketing, not just newsletters (to be even more specific, not just B2B email newsletters).
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.