Make It Your Business: Get More of Your Marketing Emails Opened and Read

The Radicati Group, in an April 2012 study, determined that worldwide email traffic totals 144.8 billion messages per day—and more than 61 percent of them relate to business. Further, the study put the number of registered email accounts at 3.3 billion in 2010—of which three-fourths are personal, and the rest are corporate email addresses.

Unfortunately, just pressing the “Send” button will not guarantee your message to a prospect, client or business contact will be opened, read and acted upon. In fact, the average open rate of emails was a measly 19.7 percent in 2012, according to a 2013 Silverpop benchmark study.

If your business’s sales and marketing efforts rely on electronic mail messages or bulk email blasts to convey timely information to your clientele, you will want an open rate of, at least, 50 percent to be remotely effective. That will mean:

·         dealing with spam filters and finding ways to penetrate them,

·         spicing up subject lines and the body of your message to evoke action and emotion, and

·         choosing the best time to transmit and regulating the send-frequency of them.

There’s a science and art to mastering email. Is your curiosity piqued? Let’s go.

Halt…who goes there?

Ever spend hours composing what you believe is a dynamite email—I mean, complete with vivid imagery, psychological trigger words and a compelling call to action—only to get a painfully-slow response, or worse, none at all? Fact is, it matters not how earth-shattering or creative one’s email is, if it never reaches the addressee’s inbox.

Spam filters are the culprit. There are varying opinions as to where the word “SPAM” originated to mean any unwanted email sent to a whole bunch of people. Being a Monty Python fan, I favor the notion it came from the famous Flying Circus sketch about a restaurant where most of their menu items contain the Shoulder Pork and hAM luncheon meat. When the waitress repeats the word “Spam” incessantly, a group of Vikings break into song until told to shut up. Thus, the meaning of the term: something that keeps repeating and repeating to great annoyance.

Email marketing campaigns should expect 10-20 percent of sent messages will end up lost in cyberspace—mostly due to overzealous spam filters. Unfortunately, there’s no sure-fire way to avoid them, but understanding how they work is a start.

Generally speaking, spam filters look at a long list of criteria to judge whether or not a particular email message is likely junk. For example, one might look for suspicious phrases like “Limited time only,” “Act NOW!” or "FREE!!!" They assign points each time one of those phrases appear. Certain words get more points than others.

According to Andy Horner, chief architect at Ace of Sales (www.aceofsales.com), 80 percent of the time it’s the subject line of the email that gets tagged. Aside from the spammy words and phrases, here are some subject line no-nos:

  • Don’t use all caps
  • Any character or key stroke used three times or more in succession—for example, “!!!”, “???” or “…”
  • Web addresses
  • Profanity, curse words or potty humor—even “heck” and “poop” have relegated messages to the junk pile
  • Sneaky misspellings of common words—such as using the number 1 for L or 3 for E.

The body of the email is fair game for spam filters as well and accounts for another 10 percent of problems getting your message delivered. If the text of the email contains sales-y words, an overabundance of links, CAPS, and/or images, brightly-colored fonts like red  or green, or is either too long (more than 500 words) or too short, a spam filter could flag it.

The list of spammy criteria is constantly growing and changing and it’s not to say you should never include one of the examples above. Just understand that if your campaign email blast crosses a “spam score threshold,” the intended recipient may never get your message.

You should also be aware of The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, which empowers the Federal Trade Commission to fine violators $11,000 for each offense if you are found to be spewing unsolicited commercial email. You may want to consult with your legal advisor to determine if you are within the law, but here are some simple rules that should help:

  • Don’t use deceptive headers, from-names, or reply-tos
  • Alwaysprovide an unsubscribe or opt-out link
  • If requested, remove recipients from your list within five business days
  • Include your physical / mailing address and phone number

What’s my (subject) line?

Let’s say you’ve successfully evaded an intended recipient’s spam filter. Now, you need them to open, read and respond to the email. What? “How would I ever know,” you ask? Email management software—such as, Ace of Sales and iContact.com—can give you feedback about what percentage of your emails were opened, how many bounced (and the reason they did), and how many times it was opened.

Having this feedback is not akin to playing Big Brother with clients. It’s about improving open rates and your chances of “getting the business.” When you send an email message or e-newsletter, the first thing one sees is who it is from and the subject line. So, it stands to reason that making those welcomed and appealing is important.

If your name or company is unfamiliar to the addressee, there’s a better than average chance the email will be deleted without even being opened. For that reason, the people you can email include:

  • Customers with whom you’ve done business within the last 24 months
  • Prospects who have agreed to receive your correspondences (Note: if someone has given me their business card, I assume they won’t mind me contacting them)
  • Partners, co-workers, friends, family and business associates, and
  • Trade show attendees from a list you’ve obtained because your company exhibited there.

You shouldn’t be blindly emailing people from a purchased list or addresses found in an online directory, Facebook or LinkedIn contacts, customers who haven’t done business with you for more than two years, or anyone you don’t have permission to contact—like names and email addresses from a corporate list, if you are a sales rep.

If your company has a monthly newsletter or e-zine, give it a catchy name and stick with it. For example, Jeffrey Gitomer has published weekly nearly 650 “Sales Caffeine” newsletters so far and the number of people to which he sends it is huge.

Andy Horner likes to share some of his favorite subject lines in his oft-presented webinar on email effectiveness. Sometimes, just having a provocative subject line will get an email read. Imagine opening your Inbox and seeing the following subject lines:

  • Does your minivan babysit?
  • Three reasons why I am smarter than you
  • Man, I hate making these calls
  • Who wears the pants in your house?

Horner adds, “Use the Four S’s when writing subject lines and emails, in general: Simple, short, specific and straight-forward. And, avoid being overly promotional, overly-clever, relying on the shock-factor, or too abstract.”

MailChimp, a leading do-it-yourself marketing service, pitches in with this secret to success—“When it comes to email marketing, the best subject lines tell what’s inside, and the worst subject lines sell what’s inside.”

Keep sentences (fewer than 15 words) and paragraphs short (One sentence paragraphs are okay). Bullet lists—with generous white space—are much more reader-friendly than large blocks of text resembling a busy wallpaper design.

One final Rule of Thumb: Make them want to keep reading–either out of respect for you and what you mean to them, or the opportunity you present (and preferably both!).

Timing is everything

Studies show that the time of day and/or day of the week an email hits an Inbox can often determine if it ever gets read or is deleted unopened. Emails received between 7 and 8 a.m. and/or between 1 and 2 p.m. on a business workday have a much better chance of being opened than one sent overnight or over the weekend. Midweek emails have better open rates than ones sent on Mondays or Fridays.

Of course, these guidelines are based on averages. Use your intuition to gauge when your intended recipients are most likely to have the time and interest to view your email and go from there. Then test alternatives and see how they work out. If you have the option to schedule when an email blast or e-newsletter is released, take advantage of that option.

Some closing thoughts about the optimum frequency of marketing emails: Send too much email and people lose interest. Send too little email...and people lose interest. So, what's the right amount of email to send out? It depends on your situation and the customer’s needs. Don't forget that responses to your marketing emails are affected by all the other correspondences your business sends out to clients—automated reminders or status emails, letters, invoices, catalogs and others.

Suffice it to say, it's hard to achieve healthy open rates when you send more than two marketing emails a week to a recipient. Ditto at once a month or less. It’s not impossible—just hard—as you try to overcome your customer’s email fatigue and forgetfulness amid all the other challenges and message bombardment they encounter.

If you're still hungry for more on effective emailing, I can recommend the following:

·         Google Mark Brownlow and check out his articles about Benchmarking Metrics for Email Marketing

·         Go to iMediaConnection.com and read Barry Stamos’ article “Higher Email Open Rates (Top 10 Checklist)” or

·         Check out MailChimp.com/Resources—lots of good stuff there.

Good luck!