September 2013: A Smörgåsbord of Email Marketing Best Practices

20 Sep

Pro tip: Mildly relevant stock photos like this one are best left out of your emails.

What was the worst mistake you’ve ever made (in regards to mass email)?

That was the question on the table for September’s meetup. We bared our souls to each other and found solace in the fact that we were not alone in our missteps. (Apologies to those who missed the meetup but what was said in the room stays in the room!)

Up next was a round robin to discuss best practices on a smorgasbord of mass email topics.

Subject lines: winners and losers

  • One idea is to use the first name of recipient in the subject line (but don’t use if your names are all in CAPS otherwise it looks like you’re SHOUTING AT THEM!
  • Another idea: writing it in the YOU voice…i.e. “There’s something I need to say to you…” use with caution, can scare people, like your coworkers)
  • You don’t always have to make the subject line directly related to the content inside- make it mysterious!
  • Keep in mind the character length for mobile- the first few characters are really important so don’t throw them away on things like the name of your organization if name is in the from line anyhow.
  • Pre-headers in email are important (the two lines of text that shows up after the subject line in some email providers)
  • Biggest take-away: spend as much time on subject line as text in newsletter! Write it 25 times if you have to.

Highest open and click rates?

  • Look at your click rates for each email and see what’s high and low. Don’t worry so much about the benchmarks in the sector as it’s really about your list quality.
  • What works well? Super-action oriented emails that convey urgency (Now! Today!)
  • Another thing to keep in mind for a national organization: staggering emails by time zone.

A/B testing: who’s doing it?

  •  The group didn’t have a lot of experience doing A/B sending as it takes considerable amount of time and you need to have a couple of thousand for the test. And you have to have a decent open rate.
  •  One idea: you could do smaller A/B tests like just the subject lines

Fundraising emails

  • Don’t stop sending emails towards of the end of the year- that’s the most critical time for fundraising. People need reminders to get their donations before the new year.
  • One thing that works well is to send a series of emails that connect thematically – spreading out a story over several emails.

How often should you send emails?

  • Don’t worry about emailing too frequently – people will opt out if they don’t like it- so you’re reaching the people who want to be reached
  • Some email providers will send emails to people who opened email, follow up 2 weeks later. “Trigger events” – more sophisticated email providers do this. Cons- these can end up being very formulaic.
  • There’s nothing worse than signing up for an email newsletter and getting nothing for 3 months because emails are only sent quarterly.
  • Welcome emails are good so at least people get something when they sign up. At the very least make sure people get a confirmation email when people sign up.
  • If you feel like you’re sending too many emails (or you’re being asked by a staff person to send an email you don’t want to send), you can be selective (for example, send to only people who opened last time)
  • Don’t wait until the end of the month if you have something urgent to tell people. Send out separate emails instead of sending out one email with tons of content that takes an hour wade through.
  • At this point we’re competing with corporate marketers, so don’t be afraid of frequency.

Who should emails be from?

  • If you’re changing the name all the time, not so good
  • Open rates are calculated by people downloading images in emails – so open rates aren’t that great if you’re just looking at hard numbers. Look at trends.

When should you send emails?

  • One funny finding is that sending emails during working hours is not always the best practice- one example given –an email was sent at 7pm on a Friday and open rates remained the same as emails sent on Monday morning.
  • Food for thought: a lot of people are on social media/email on weeknights and weekends when they actually have time and get less emails overall.

What do people click?

  • People tend to click on emails that have things like: jobs, with subject lines that say “Click here for photos, or with something urgent-sounding like a “just released” report. learn what happened
  • Tip: Don’t put so many links to outward sites…you want people to click where you want them to go- ideally on ONE thing.
  • For newsletters- focus on what’s at the top. What do you really want people to read? Put it up there.

What are other organizations you follow that have good email newsletters?

  • A few examples given: Edutopia, Pesticide Action Network, those that post interesting events
  • Some in the group appreciated emails that are simple messages – just the logo and text.
  • Good to note: even with social media, newsletters haven’t going away- they’re more important than ever and seem to be something that people read

Images: are they important?

  • Be careful: Images can look crazy if the reader doesn’t accept downloading the images. And if you typically have a box with your action inside of it, it can look crazy, too (like in Outlook)
  • Single column layout is the trend = best for mobile. Three columns = bad for mobile.
  • Use creative alt-text (for example, “If you could see this image, you could know what’s happening to rainforest:)
  • You don’t have to have an image for every article
  • Concise, well-written headers and calls to action are more important than images.
  • Mildly relevant stock images on newsletter are not so appealing. Better to use nothing than something boring.
  • If it’s scaled down so tiny is it even worth including? Probably not.

Has anyone changed emails based on analyzing metrics?

  • A few people said yes, they decided to spend more time on certain things like subject lines.
  • General consensus: it’s hard to know what really worked if you’re not doing A/B testing.
  • For some organizations it doesn’t really matter how much you change things up- people will open no matter what because they are interested.
  • In sum: metrics are maybe not that important.

Mass email providers

  • Marta passed around a chart comparing different providers. Link to chart forthcoming
  • None of us knew of any GREAT email providers.  They change all the time and each provider has its pro/cons, does some things you want and some things you don’t.
  • One con with Vertical Response is that if someone opts out of the list they have to contact VR to be opted back in.
  • A few providers that weren’t on the list that were mentioned as possible options: Salsa, Nation Builder, Cooler Email
  • For those organizations that use Salesforce, integration with email provider is important
  • Selecting a provider could be a meetup in and of itself.

A parting gift

Marta passed around “4 Ways to make your message better” – a super useful tool to keep in  mind when you’re crafting your emails. Check it out here.


2 Responses to “September 2013: A Smörgåsbord of Email Marketing Best Practices”

  1. Jen Burstedt September 24, 2013 at 4:00 pm #

    Great summary of the meeting, Deborah!

  2. Marta September 25, 2013 at 7:52 am #

    You rock for summarizing all this. There was a lot of great info shared and I’m thrilled to have it all captured!

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