How to increase e-mail delivery rates, part 2: Getting people to read your message

In the last post, I described in some depth the types of considerations that can help you maximize your chances that your messages will make it into your subscribers’ inboxes–the “email delivery rate.” But email marketing delivery is really only the first consideration. The next question is how to maximize your chances that your content will make it into your subscribers’ brains.

The answer to this problem begins not with your e-mail messages, but on your web page. Your subscription form itself is the first step in ensuring targeted delivery. The form should make it clear exactly what your subscribers are signing up for: what type of content and how often. If there are several different types of content you want to send out that are not likely to interest the same people, consider splitting up the information into separate mailing lists and offering your visitors the option of subscribing to one or more of them.

Next, when you send out messages, make sure the From e-mail address, the sender name, and the subject line are all recognizable. Every message should make it completely clear to the recipient where the message is coming from and why before they open it. When we send out newsletters, for example, the sender name is “ActiveCampaign, Inc.” and the title always begins “ActiveCampaign News.” If your recipients don’t recognize where your message is coming from and why, they may not know they want to read it. Worse, they may flag it as spam, thereby preventing your future mailings from getting through to them. Here’s some more information on subject line copywriting.

It’s a good idea to personalize your messages to enhance this effect. The possibilities of message personalization range from simply opening the message with a personal greeting to much more effective techniques like splitting your subscribers up into groups based on their location or click-through activity. For example, imagine you’re running a mailing list about changes in local laws that affect business owners. If you’ve collected the zip code of each of your subscribers, you can target your messages directly at business owners within an affected area for a given policy change, and spare all of your other subscribers from having to scan through messages that don’t have any relevance for them. The perceived usefulness of your mailing list is likely to be far higher, the perceived annoyingness is likely to be far lower, and your overall retention rate and success will very probably be positively impacted.

Also, don’t forget to include an unsubscribe link in every message. You may also want to give them a link to update their account information, if you collect any special information or if you offer multiple lists, but always include an unsubscribe link. Why? Because if you don’t, people that want to unsubscribe probably won’t contact you, or e-mail you, or call you, or just delete every message that comes in: they’ll probably mark your messages as spam. If they use any of the popular e-mail providers, that could affect the likelihood that your messages will be delivered to other users of those e-mail hosts.

The next thing to think about is the content itself. Be honest with yourself now–is it boring? filled with editing errors? is it all whacked out? There’s only one way to know for sure: have a few people read it beforehand. In the previous article I mentioned some reasons why it is a good idea to set up a test mailing list including all of your own addresses and any colleagues who are willing to help you with your newsletter. Now I will tell you about a great big reason to do so. If you don’t, your dreams will be haunted by the mistakes you failed to catch in proofreading, the opportunities you lost by mistyping a link, or the subscriptions you lost by sending out substandard content.

Once you’ve got everything proofread and okayed by multiple readers, you can start thinking about how to maximize the effectiveness of what you’re sending. A/B Split testing your e-mails is an excellent way to do this. For those not familiar, A/B Split testing involves randomly assigning your site visitors or e-mail recipients into 2 group, and delivering different versions of your content to each of the two groups. You then compare the response rates (click-throughs, read/open, forward-to-friend, etc.) of the two different versions to determine which one worked better. If you’re using ActiveCampaign Email Marketing, then you have a convenient piece of software available to manage this process available to you in the form of the email marketing A/B Split addon. Otherwise, you can split your list into two smaller lists and try to do this by hand. Either way, it’s an incredibly smart way to leverage your existing audience and improve the content you’re providing. You can use this technique, for example, to test the effectiveness of different subject lines, to see what types of subject lines your subscribers are more likely to open and read. You can also try different layouts within the e-mail content itself in order to determine what format produces the highest click-through rate.

Finally, be sure to keep your recipients in mind with everything you do. Imagine what it will be like for them to receive your message. What time of day will it arrive in their inbox? If you send a message outside of business hours, it will be much more likely to get lost among the list of messages which accumulated overnight. Also, people feel much more pressured to get through their list of e-mails in the morning so they can begin their day; this means that if your e-mail does get opened, it’s less likely to be fully read. Also consider how their e-mail reader will respond to the attempt to open the message. If you’ve included multimedia elements like Flash or Javascript, at best they will simply be excluded from the opened message and at worst your recipient will have to see an error message. It will not benefit you to become associated with error messages.

It comes down to anticipating and managing the experience that you’re giving your subscribers, just like any other type of business activity. If you want people to enjoy their experience, become more involved in what you’re doing, and come back for more, you can. All it takes is a little extra time and consideration. Here’s some more information on solid email copywriting techniques.

Let us know what you think about these ideas, what types of things you think about when you’re sending to mailing lists, and what you’ve had success with.

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