What Matters Most in Email Marketing: Five Questions for 5 Experts

Do we ever figure email marketing out?

After years of creating email campaigns for races, retailers, restaurants, hotels, and a even a daily email for my old newspaper, I must say no. I still find myself searching for answers.

What’s a good open rate? What’s should we measure? Images or no images?

The questions keep coming, the answers change by the day and the person.

This summer my colleague Kate Hamilton and I reached out to some of the marketers we respect most to get their thoughts on some common email marketing questions. Today we’re sharing their answers here, and the differences in their answers shows you that there are no hard and fast answers when it comes to email marketing (despite what so many experts will tell you).

Who are these experts?

Brad Farris, Editor at EnMast.com (@blfarris)

Andy Crestodina, Founder of Orbit Media Studios and author of Content Chemistry (@crestodina)

Lisa Ghisolf, Founder, Gizmo Design (@gizmodesign)

Igor Polevoy, Founder of the email service provider ExpressPigeon (@ipolevoy)

Jill Salzman, Co-founder at The Founding Kit (@foundingmom)

Here’s a sampling of their thoughts on some common email marketing questions I hear from clients and friends.

1. If you only have time to dig into 1 metric for your email campaigns, what should it be and why?

Farris:  The purpose of an email campaign (for me) is to get people to click on something, to take some action; because of this the click-thru rate is my #1 metric. Of course if an email doesn’t get opened then no one will click through — so open rate is a close second.

Polevoy:  Open rate, because this is the best way to get your message across, and also best way to gauge engagement level of your audience

Crestodina:  CTOR. This is my favorite email metric.

[Note:  For the unfamiliar, CTOR stands for Click to Open Rate, the number of unique clicks divided by the number of unique opens. This tells you how many of those who opened your email found your content good enough to read more or dig deeper.]

Ghisolf:  Who did not view. Why? You can try sending to them with a different title or as text-only.

My two cents:  I love the COTR metric, but all metrics leave something to be desired. None tell you how many people saw the subject line in their email program but didn’t open the full email. That’s still an impression. Opens and click-throughs can drop dramatically if you’re sending several emails a week, and click-throughs can be much higher if you’re sending one email per month loaded with great content. The metric, and what defines success, depends on the overall strategy.

2. What’s your best time-saving advice for email marketers?

Farris:  Curate! Great content gets read, but you don’t have to write it all! If you create a list of the most important articles, videos or podcasts from the last week (or month) about a topic your clients and prospects are interested in, it can make you look smarter and get more clicks than a well written article of your own.

Crestodina:  Use a simple template. A weird, complicated template will cost you many many hours over the years.

My two cents:  After doing this for eight years, I’ve found one of the biggest time-savers is simply having a firm cut-off for including content. Don’t bend because a board member or staff member wants to squeeze something in late. It sets a precedent and will add many hours to the task over the course of the year.

3. What’s your best trick for increasing click-through rates?

Farris:  Have lots of things to click on! If you have just one or two articles and those topics don’t interest the reader you’ve lost them. If you have a list of articles that you’ve curated from around the web on topics of interest to your audience you’ll see more clicks and fewer unsubscribes.

Crestodina:  Leave a “curiosity gap.” The teaser text shouldn’t give too much away.

Lisa Ghisolf:  Make it easy to follow without a lot of text. Provide good, usable content.

4. Are there industries where email marketing isn’t worth the time or money?

Salzman:  I highly doubt it. I was going to say prostitution, but I bet that would be great actually.

Polevoy:  Those with super expensive items for sale, such as manufacturing plant equipment. You simply do not have hundreds or thousands of customers to communicate with.

Crestodina:  Businesses that sell impulse items such as candy under $1. People just won’t subscribe. Also, businesses that sell aircraft carriers/submarines that cost more than $100,000,000. These decisions aren’t affected by content marketing very much. It’s more about relationships, sales processes, multi-year RFP processes and bribes. …everyone else should do email marketing.

Ghisolf:  I can’t think of one. Every demographic has a growing mobile segment and uses email to some extent.

Thank you to these experts for sharing some wisdom with us!

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