Plain-spoken Online Conversion Rate Newsletter - covering web design, email techniques, sales, marketing, copywriting, usability,  and consumer psychology.

1923: The Golden Age of Email Marketing Metrics

Ever have a conversation with a good friend about some problem you're grappling with and she tells you stuff you think ought to be useful, but you're just not making the connections? It can be frustrating. You want to know what it means! You want to know what you're supposed to do!

The quantitative email metrics we gabbed about last time are just like that friend. They're telling you useful things. You've just got to figure out what they mean and what you are supposed to do. And that's where a little testing can go a long way!

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"What a wonderful site! You know how to put the powerful academic principles of marketing and sales into practical language. A great asset for getting past the current day hype in marketing."
Professor Allen Weiss,

Bitter pill to swallow, but the craft of persuading folks is not a science - there are no hard and fast rules. Principles, yes. Best practices, yes. But anybody who says you just gotta do A, B and C to create a winner is blowing smoke. When my friends at Future Now analyze emails for clients they dig deep into both quantitative as well as qualitative metrics to evaluate 5 areas of your email messages:

1. The message - how clearly does the email communicate it?

2. The language - does it fit your audience and circumstances?

3. The structure - does it facilitate clear comprehension?

4. The process - how persuasive are your emails at driving action?

5. The long term - how effective are your emails at building relationships?

Your goal is to understand what works best for you based on your unique set of circumstances. Low open rates and low click-through rates fundamentally scream, "Danger, danger, Will Robinson. Conversion problem!" If your open rates are regrettable, you gotta ask yourself, "Is my subject line capturing attention and eliciting interest? Do other preliminary cues encourage the recipient to open the email? Is the timing of my mailing optimal?" If your click-through numbers are shabby, you need to ask, " Are my calls to action clear and in the right places? Am I offering point of action assurances? Do I have sufficient links (and are they working properly)? Is my copy engaging and persuasive?"

As Claude Hopkins advised in his little book, Scientific Advertising, published in 1923, "Almost any question can be answered, cheaply, quickly, and finally, by a test campaign. And that's the way to answer them - not by arguments around a table. Go to the court of last resort - the buyers of your product." So do just that!

Prepare the best email message you can. Then start testing. Your don't have to get complex; it can be as straight-forward as using an A-B split, where you divide your list into two groups, varying only one element of your email, and track the responses in both groups. It's important to remember you can accurately test only one element at a time - so we suggest you begin with the most powerful element: your subject line.

Prepare two separate emails, identical except for the subject line. The email with the first subject line goes to half your list, while the email with the second subject line goes to the other half. Compare the open rates between the two groups. Once you find your winner, it becomes your control or benchmark. Test it against another subject line, and so on, until you are convinced you've found the best possible subject line for your messages. Even then, you should always be working to improve results.

Those results may surprise you. In one such testing scenario, one subject line generated an open rate 300% higher than its closest competitor. A difference like that can have a major impact on your bottom line!

Once you've thoroughly tested your subject lines, test other elements in your email: the bonus gift, the P.S. message, the guarantee, the opening sentence, the From-field, and calls to action. Test personalized greetings against general greetings. Test different type styles. Test various ways of stating your guarantee. Test the effect of including graphic images. Test the times and days your email will run. The key is to test one thing at a time, building on your successes with each step.

More complex forms of cell testing let you test "robustly" across multiple variables. In the example below, a list is divided into four groups to allow for a test comparing the effect of two different email offers and two different landing pages.

List Segment A B C D
Offer Received Offer 1 Offer 1 Offer 2 Offer 2
Landing Page LP 1 LP 2 LP 1 LP 2

Measuring the conversion rate for each of the list segments (A, B, C and D) determines which combination of offer and landing page produces optimum results.

To test well requires method, precision and patience. You can think of it as a quick fix for the problems your email metrics are spotlighting, but the cool thing about testing, over the long haul, is that you can develop a priceless understanding that goes beyond knowledge or even wisdom.

Want to know what it means and what to do? Learning how to persuade folks effectively may not ultimately be a science, but throwing a little objectivity at the problem really pays off. All you gotta do is test!

P.S. To learn more about email marketing catch my friends from InBox Interactive webinar series titled "Creative Content: Developing Powerful and Persuasive E-mail Promotions." The first one presented by Kim MacPherson, Founder and President is scheduled for Friday, April 19, 2002 at 2pm EST. Or email Lynne to find out about their other events on May 5, May 17 and May 31.


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Would you like to know what your visitor's intent was? Want to determine their exact behavior? Need to improve the results you are getting on your site? Take a few seconds and download our whitepaper.

Don't miss the upcoming series of full-day web marketing workshops. Day 1, the search engine optimization workshop is being led by Stephan Spencer, Netconcepts' President. Day 2, the conversion rate marketing workshop is being led by Jeff Eisenberg and myself.

Bryan Eisenberg
CIO, Future Now, Inc.

P.S. Do you have questions you would like to see answered here? Ask away!

The Case Against Autoresponders

I've been a bit low lately. We've been watching our friend deal with the death of her mom. She's been discontinuing services, closing accounts, doing all the stuff that gradually reduces the material presence of a life. One of her experiences got me thinking about our online efforts to build relationships, and I decided to pass the thoughts along to you.

It's an offline experience, but there are some lessons I believe you can use to advantage.

My friend had to discontinue her mom's AOL service. She called the customer service number and got a lovely representative who completed the request painlessly. The representative gave my friend a confirmation number and said to expect a confirmation letter in the mail.

The letter came, ostensibly written by the Executive Vice President of Member Services, saying how sorry AOL was "to lose a good friend like you," embellishing a useless sales pitch and promising they would "do everything we can to get you back online." To encourage Mom to return, AOL was planning on reserving her screen name, buddy list and preferences. All Mom had to do to reactive was sign on.

You don't need me to spell out how this made my friend feel, do you? She might have just let the bitter taste remain in her mouth, but she decided to reply. She wrote:

"I am greatly pleased you consider my mother a friend of America Online and appreciate you are keen to keep her as a customer, but her account was not cancelled due to dissatisfaction. My mother passed away 15 January 2002. I, quite naturally, was keen on keeping her as a mother. Sadly, we both lose out.

"The purpose of cancellation was made clear to the customer service representative with whom I spoke, and she was sincere in her expression of sympathy and efficient in her role helping me terminate services which my mother is no longer in a position to enjoy.

" I would suggest some remedial marketing strategies to prevent this sort of faux pas from occurring in future. Short of being able to work miracles, I'm afraid there is nothing you can do to get her back online."

Two weeks later, a personal reply from someone in Executive Escalations arrived. In addition to offering condolences, the letter said, "Our billing representatives now have a specific cancellation code to enter when they are informed that the account holder is deceased that prevents the situation you encountered."

Happily, AOL redeemed itself and my friend feels much better about them today. Even better for AOL, she didn't cancel her own AOL account and isn't inclined to engage in negative viral marketing.

If you are in business online, you are, by default, in the business of building relationships with your customers. You apply this effort to your Web site, your fulfillment and customer service, to your emails and your system-generated responses. But sometimes you're going to lose a customer for reasons completely outside your control.

When people bid you farewell for whatever reason, graciously let them go. You might find they come back later. And if they go because they are permanently vacationing in the Great Beyond, then take a moment to say goodbye properly, if you have the option. Do you have any idea how much that means to those who remain behind? My friend conscientiously sent emails to a number of online businesses who regularly sent both email and snail mail to her mom, requesting her mom's name be removed from their lists. Only one replied.

It's the compassionate, human touch. And yes, there is a self-serving reason to do it. Guess who those left behind are going to remember the next time they are thinking about your particular product or service? You would like to leave them with a favorable impression, right?


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GROK is taken from the landmark novel "Stranger in a Strange Land", by Robert A. Heinlein. It is a Martian word that implies the presence of intimate and exhaustive knowledge and understanding. Our "GROK" is a keen observer of the world around him and he takes a particular interest in the World Wide Web. The folks at Future Now like him a lot because he's taught them that "sometimes the price of clarity is the risk of insult."

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