The Weakest — and the Strongest — Link

It’s funny how things have changed. The very first promotional emails — back in the “olden days” — were very simple. Most were created in ASCII text and, more times than not, had one very simple call to action with a single link at the bottom.

Nowadays, of course, it’s pretty much considered mainstream to “link early and often,” as one very astute marketer recently observed. However, as the old real estate adage goes, you can bet your last dollar that “location, location, location” influences response rates.

As most of you already well know, a link can be a straight text link, where the “click here” or the specific call to action is, well, clickable (hyperlinked) and gives recipients direct access to the connected landing page or Web site. And, often, you’ll find e-commerce promotions that hyperlink the showcased products themselves so users can click directly on the product of choice and be immediately directed to the specific page for that product. Of course, a link can also be embedded in a logo or a graphic.

I don’t think I can count the number of email promotions I’ve had a hand in or have been lucky enough to be a keen observer of. What I can tell you, so many promotions later, is that when the links within a promotion are tracked individually — whether they are text links, graphical links, or both — there is almost always a clear-cut winner. That is, one piece of email real estate, above all others, pulls a significantly greater response than its neighbors. Once you determine which link is superior (as well as which links are not), you can definitely enhance your subsequent promotions.

Long ago, with a particular client’s emailed house newsletter, I remember it was the banner at the top — complete with action-inducing headline and logo — that over and over again pulled consistently better than the other links. Later on, it was the caption link under the “star” showcased product that became the hands-down winner.

Recently, with another client, one small burst located above the fold and announcing the top benefits of the offer pulled close to 80 percent of the total click-throughs. This, too, was a house-list promotion, and the overall click-through rate was close to 25 percent, meaning that this one link alone pulled close to a 20 percent rate. Now that’s primo property.

The benefit to this kind of knowledge, of course, is what you can do with it in your subsequent promotions. For example, we will continue to utilize this “burst with offer above the fold” into this particular client’s promotions for as long as it works. And we’ll make it a point to place our most important directive into this very valuable piece of property.

At some point down the road, however, there is sure to be a new control with another prime spot, and the burst will most likely go away… or, at the very least, it won’t showcase the most important part of the offer. Then it’ll be time to switch gears yet again. And so on…

Not everyone and not every technology — whether an outside solutions provider or a software solution — is able to track individual links easily. For those of you who can, you may want to sit this part out. The rest of you can manually track the strengths of multiple links within a promotion with your server’s log files or with a program such as the WebTrends Log Analyzer. All you need to do at the onset is set up a unique “keycode” for each link, and count the number of times each is referenced in the log files as a referring URL during a specific date range.

For instance, suppose you want to send out a very simple HTML promotion with a graphical headline, an optimized photo, and two very simple text links — one at the top and one at the bottom. You want each link to connect to the landing page you’ve developed for this particular promotion, located at

The keycodes you set up may be something like the following:

  • TLA052901 for the top text link (where “TLA” stands for text link number 1, followed by your send date)
  • TLB052901 for the bottom text link
  • H052901 for the link within the headline graphic
  • P052901 for the link embedded in the photo

To position these within the links, simply add a question mark (?) after the last letter or number of your main URL (in this case, after the “.htm”) and then add the keycode. For example:

The question mark nullifies itself and the keycode that follows it, so it won’t affect the main URL and will take recipients to the right place. And the entire URL with keycode is retained as the “referring URL” in the log files, so you can track the total number of clicks for each link in relation to the total number of emails sent.

That’s the very simple, very manual (and, often, very time-intensive) way to track individual links within an email. Whether you go this route or the high-tech route, just do it. Discover where your best piece of property is located and then make the most of it. Treat it like premium space within a print ad or a Web site.

And, whatever you do, don’t spend too much time thinking of creative ways to boost response to your weakest link. Chances are good that the location is its downfall — just keep testing.

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