Email Best Practices: Pay Attention to the Data

person using laptop keyboard

In the previous posts in our Email Best Practices for Small Business series, we covered Easy Reading Is Key, Use Natural Language, Successful Emails Focus on Benefits Instead of Features, and Use ONE Clear Call to Action. In this post, we will explore using data to improve email performance.

Data provides instructive feedback that can help you improve email performance. If you are using an email provider like Constant Contact or a more robust solution like SilverPop, Emma, or Pardot, you have access to two crucial data points—open rate and click-to-open rate.

Open rate

An “open” is defined as an email being displayed in the recipient’s email “viewport.” This means someone clicked on the subject line to view the email. Open rates are directly affected by subject lines. The subject line is a primary factor in getting recipients to open emails. In fact, over one-third of recipients open emails based on subject line alone. Other variables that impact open rate include sender reputation and relationship, email list quality, and times that emails are sent. But don’t underestimate the importance of subject lines, as these can make a decisive difference in whether your email is opened or deleted.

The topic of subject lines could take up an entire post of its own. A good rule of thumb is to keep them short and descriptive, about five words in length if possible. Hubspot has published a must-read Slideshare on best practices for subject lines, entitled 19 Subject Line Stats Impacting Our Open Rates. It covers the overall impact of subject lines, effects of word choices like the words “Free” and “You” on open rates, and the different types of subject lines. A good tool to add to your arsenal is Using this free program, you can learn to craft effective subject lines. They also publish a very informative weekly e-newsletter.

Click to open rate

Click to open rate (CTO) can be a little confusing, but compares the number of people that opened the email to the number that clicked on the call to action within it. This metric tells us how effective we are in getting recipients to take an action from the content in the email. There may be more than one action we enable our recipients to take, but this metric doesn’t distinguish between them. Any click through counts for this indicator.

For instance, if 100 people viewed your email and 25 clicked through—13 to buy an item and 12 to read more about your products—your CTO would be an impressive 25%. Please note, however, that the average click-to-open rate is 7.97%. So, do not be discouraged if you’re not getting 25%!

Click-to-open rates are primarily a function of the effectiveness of the email content, including text, graphics, and supporting visuals. How engaging is your content, how appealing is your design, how compelling are your offers, and how clear are your calls to action (CTAs)? Did the benefits target and resonate with the reader? Did you include text and button links for the CTAs to provide multiple opportunities to click through? Was the copy long and convoluted, or concise and powerful? These are the variables that impact CTO.

Drive incremental performance improvement

Are your open rates and click to open rates lower than the averages within your industry for these metrics? If they are, your immediate priorities should be improving your subject lines and the content of your emails. Are your metrics at or above industry averages? Then apply some of the fine tweaks that are known to help generate incremental improvements in your future emails (as in Hubspot’s Slideshare mentioned above).

How many of the tips above are you not using? Revisit one of your low-performing emails and make note of violations of best practices, and then refine your email or try a different approach. Then review your performance data again to learn about the impact of your adjustments. Use this reliable scientific method as an ongoing practice to improve your performance as an email marketer.

Every year there are benchmark email averages for just about every industry imaginable. I encourage you to find this data and contrast it to your own (Constant Contact is a good resource for this information). Use these findings, as well as your increased knowledge in best practices, to drive performance improvements and to set higher expectations for future email campaigns.

This is just the tip of the best-practices iceberg, but hopefully I have helped you to understand the fundamental aspects of email marketing that often separate the top performers from the rest of the pack. Consistently leveraging industry best practices and data to improve your email will have a positive effect on your email marketing efforts.

Interested in learning more? Email on Acid and Litmus are great resources to stay on top of industry trends and email best practices.

Nathan Rich

About the Author

Nathan Rich is the Creative Director for ECI Corporate Marketing and has more than 15 years’ experience in marketing and advertising. Outside of the office, Nathan can be found focusing on music (a major passion of his) or honing his video craft.