Email Marketing Best Practices
Note: This is a transcript of an episode about Email Marketing from PSM – Professional Services Marketing Show podcast. Hosts David Lecours and Josh Miles share email marketing best practices. Click here to listen to the episode.
Episode 104 on Email Marketing
Josh: Hello and welcome to PSM show. If it’s about professional services marketing, we’ll be covering it here. I’m Josh Miles and this is episode 104 on Email Marketing for Friday, November 17, 2017. You know, tomorrow is my birthday and welcome to the show David.
David: Hey, happy birthday.
Josh: Thank you.
David: In that honor, I’m cracking open a beer. Oh, can you hear that?
Josh: That sounds like birthday goodness. I’m actually enjoying a little bit of Bourbon here myself, celebrating a little early.
David: Nice. This is a Stone Ripper, a San Diego Pale Ale.
Josh: Sampling the Woodford Reserve here today. Also quite tasty. Today’s episode is actually not about beverages but it is about one of my favorite topics, which is email marketing.
David: Yeah. Josh, you know, I’ve heard you say that this is the most under-appreciated marketing channel and that begs the question, why?
Josh: I think there’s a lot of reasons, not the least of which, depending on the tool that you use, email marketing can actually be the least expensive, especially if your firm is doing email in-house and pulling together email newsletters. There’s certainly the time that goes into it. One of the reasons we like it is because it can be so targeted. You’re obviously building your list and sending it exactly to the people that you want to receive it. It’s more likely to be seen and you can actually know who has looked at it.
You can get a little bit big brother with it of course, and get into the details and know exactly who clicked on it and who forwarded it and who clicked on what. In effect, your audience if giving you that permission. They’re signing up for your list, presumably you’re not spamming them. Hopefully nobody’s doing that. If you are, we’ll get into that a little bit later. That combination of low cost and targeted and the ability to know who’s looking at it and sending it to only people who want it, it’s kind of one of the closest things we have to silver bullet in marketing today.
David: Yeah. I think that’s so true. The idea that it is so targeted is so key. Many marketing channels, whether it’s traditional advertising or direct mail, you just don’t know if somebody has seen it because if it’s just an ad, you’re hoping that they pick up the publication that you’ve placed that ad-buy in. Whereas, with email marketing, you can’t guarantee that somebody’s going to open and click on your email but there’s a pretty good chance that they’re going to at least see it. You’re going to have a better opportunity for somebody seeing your message than so many other media.
That intimacy of knowing exactly who you’re targeting and sending something to them is pretty unrivaled.
Josh: There’s also the, as you mentioned, the visibility piece. Even if people aren’t opening the email, even if they’re triaging it and seeing it in the inbox and they aren’t opening everyone, they’re just deleting it as it comes in, they’re still getting that brand expose. I think about some of the retail brands that I interact with. I don’t want to buy something from J Crew or Bed, Bath and Beyond or whoever else I’m getting these occasional emails from but I see them in my inbox all the time so that brand exposure is there pretty frequently.
David: Yeah. I think we know that, in our business, the professional service marketers, the sales cycle is long. Being front of mind with somebody is so key. Having a targeted campaign where you put that prospective buyer on a drip of useful content, will help you rise to the front of mind or the top of requests for proposal list when your customer moves in the buying cycle to actually have a project and ready to purchase. I think that is so key.
Josh: We talked a little bit about, obviously, you’re going to get a little bit of visibility in the inbox even if somebody does interact with the email. Maybe we could talk about some of the ways to help optimize getting people to read that email and I think one of the ones I’d love to hear your thoughts on is what role the subject line plays in getting someone to open that email.
David: It’s critical. You can’t overstate this. If somebody doesn’t open your email, they don’t really absorb your message and the only way they’re going to open the email is if the subject line is compelling. I’m imagining opening my email service provider, I happen to use Mac Mail but it could be Gmail or whatever. Doesn’t matter. You’ve got a sea of new emails. They’re all bold, indicating that they haven’t been read. You get this little dreadful feeling in your stomach about having to go through all of these different emails.
Josh: That was literally me this morning. Why are there so many emails in my inbox?
David: Right. Yeah. You’ve got to deal with most of them. Knowing that, you’re competing with projects and critical emails from people on your staff so you’ve got to have an email subject line, because that’s the only thing people see, that is in fact, compelling and it needs to be well written, it needs to peak somebody’s interest. There’s a lot of techniques to do this whether it’s asking a compelling question, having a thought-provoking or provocative message. I always suggest to clients that, if they’re looking for inspiration for writing great email headlines, go to the supermarket and look at the tabloids. Look at the headlines that you’re seeing popping off the list.
I’m not recommending that you write an article about Brad Pitt’s dating habits or something like that but, look at the way they craft those messages because they’re guaranteed to stand out on a newsstand. The techniques they use, things like seven tips for X, Y, and Z or, have you ever thought of A, B, and C? Those are great techniques.
Josh: The third one will blow your mind.
David: There you go.
Josh: The subject lines, I think, are definitely powerful ways to get your attention and then, you know, most email programs also will have that preview text, is what I typically call it, but that next line of text that’s the un-bolded copy which is sometimes, a totally squandered opportunity when you open up the email and you see that that first line says, “Email not rendering. View it in a browser.” That kind of default text is the first thing you see but we’ll get into some of the different email programs here in a second but things like Mail Chimp will allow you to enter that preview text in purposefully so it’s not just pulling the default message.
David: Yes. Right. Right. Typically, the default is the first lines in your actual email but you have the ability to create, some people call it an excerpt or a synopsis and that’s another great way that your email is compelling. First read subject line, second read is whatever that summary easy. Just some real practical tips; somewhere between 35 and 55 characters, which ends up being about six to ten words for the subject line so it fits within the window of view within the email.
Josh: Yeah because you’re not probably, technically limited by the number of words or characters but nobody’s ever going to see those beyond the six to ten words, you’re not going to be able to read it anymore.
David: Yeah. Don’t put your whole entire email message, in the subject line. It’s not a way to game the system.
Josh: I feel like there are some people who use the subject line almost like text messaging. They just send you the subject line email with an empty content.
David: Yeah. Nothing else. I’ve used that technique so I’m guilty. Josh, there’s something I noticed recently. The rise in popularity of emojis. It may be because people are sending emails from their phone and the emoji culture is a little bit more prominent within mobile. How do you feel sticking an emoji in the subject line? You’ve got this sea of email text for subject lines and an emoji pops out? Is it professional? I don’t know. I have mixed feelings. What do you think?
Josh: I feel like the underlying theme with email is, is with great power comes great responsibility. Most people just don’t behave very responsibly on the web when it comes to email marketing. It’s the thing that I feel that people have abused more than anything. The reason we have spam laws is that people spam you. I think emojis are maybe not up there with spam but certainly, every email doesn’t warrant using emoji and the professional services space.
Josh: Sure, there are things like open houses or parties or golf outings or networking opportunities and maybe those are good places to maybe work in a little emoji here and there but certainly not every message. What’s your take on that?
David: I like that. I think using it sparingly. There are some cute emojis that you can utilize in a witty way. Whether it relations to the literally or metaphorically, to the subject line, that can be kind of fun. Yeah. I think if it becomes the norm, then it’s not unique, it’s not special and people will tire of it.
Josh: Who knew that we would have so much to say about emails and we are literally, just through the subject line at this point? This is one of those that may seem like, “How do you even change this?” Actually, the sender itself could be a factor to whether you open this email or not. Tell us about why that is.
David: Yeah. I’m glad you brought that up. When you’re scanning, the first thing you’ll look at is … Well, actually, I’m not even sure. I sort of go back and forth between looking at the subject line and looking at who sent it. Both are going to give me a clue, you mentioned triage, in terms of the priority that I need to respond to that email. My eyeball probably goes back and forth. I put one eye on subject line and maybe I use the other eye to look at sender and I’m instantly judging whether or not I’m going to open that email.
The point here is that I strongly believe that the sender needs to be an actual person that you have this relationship with. Now, you may not have met that person but I think it needs to come from you, an actual person or somebody in the company that is perhaps a figurehead that people know. What I discourage people from doing is just putting, the X, Y, Z first or B&C consulting because that just feels instantly like it’s going to be some sort of generic corporate, not very compelling, personal email.
It seems small but again, you’ve got milliseconds to let the viewer know; are you trustworthy? Are you offering something worthy? Most likely, that comes from a person, not a company. Your thoughts?
Josh: Let me see if I’ve got this straight. We can say it’s from XYZ Corp and the subject line is November email.
David: Yeah. Right. That tells me-
Josh: There’s nothing less interesting than the big corporate giants sending me their November newsletter.
David: Yes. Absolutely. Right. I don’t want to read that. It’s going directly into trash. The other option is to get an email from Josh Miles and saying, “Guess who we just hired at Miles Herndon?” I know it’s coming from you. I have a relationship with you. The headline is compelling. I’m much more apt to click on that.
Josh: I love the very conversational nature of your very theoretic subject line of, “Guess who we just hired?” That’s so much more human than, “A press release E sounding. Miles is proud to announce the new developer of business development.” I’d rather read the email that says, “Guess who we just hired?”
Josh: I don’t know. Let me guess.
David: I love you said that. That’s a great technique. If your subject line doesn’t sound conversational and literally, test it by posing the question or staying the statement to somebody else and if they say, “Oh no, that’s corporate speak,” speak human. Be a human being and have empathy and be compelling. Don’t sound like a corporate automaton, if that’s even a word.
Josh: It is if we use it a few more times.
David: That’s right.
Josh: I think the other thing to keep in mind for sender is, for most programs, you’re going to have the option of including both, the sender name and the sender email so you’ve got the opportunity to, depending on how your email preferences are set, you either see those listed as names, so you see that it’s from David Lecours, or you see that it’s from firstname.lastname@example.org but those are both things to think about because, when you’re sending through an email service provider and piece of software, you’re not relegated to just sending from, “your email address” it can be from anybody as long as that email address is validated through the system.
David: There might be a reason to break this rule. Let’s say your email address is showing but let’s say you’re sending out some sort of fun, timely thing. In the last episode, we talked about holiday messages and generally, we’re not a fan of generic holiday messages but let’s just say for example, you were sending a holiday message and to break things up a little you could say, “Elf from the North Pole,” or, “Elf from XYZ Corp,” just to provide a little bit of variety or maybe there’s a relationship between the sender, name and the subject matter.
I think as a general rule, don’t try to be overly creative and witty. Save that for the content and the body of the email, which I think we might want to talk about next.
Josh: Yeah. Let’s get to that then.
David: That was my segway, did you notice that?
Josh: It was pretty subtle. I appreciated that.
David: All right. You’ve determined your subject line. You’ve determined your sender, now you’ve got to write the content. Josh, any good rules for developing content of an email, without getting too much into content marketing, which is a totally separate subject? In terms of length or topic, what do you do in terms of creating this content of the email?
Josh: This may be sort of cheating but I’ve always enjoyed writing the email inside the context of the template that I’m going to be using so that I can really see. It’s so easy if you just start writing in Word or a text editor, to write something lengthy, even if you don’t feel like it’s getting that way and I think email is one of those things, it’s much easier to visually scan the important parts. Email writing and blog writing are similar in that regard. Having lots of small, bite-sized pieces, allows your eyes to just kind of glance over it and see the important parts that pop out, whether you’ve got one big image at the top or a couple little thumbnails throughout but you know.
Even if it’s not literally bullet points, just writing in little chunks I think is a little bit easier to digest than opening up your inbox and being greeted with a wall of text. I think very few people are looking for that in an email. What would you add to that?
David: Yeah. That’s so true. I like digestible chunks of content. Think of it sort of, as web copy where it’s not long-form narration but it’s these smaller chunks that somebody can scan and see a headline and then a little bit of copy, a couple sentences. Another headline, another couple sentences so it doesn’t feel like work. It feels joyful to be able to read and learn the great insight that you’re providing. That reminds me of the next thing.
Within the content, you want to make sure that you’re offering valuable information that will make your clients’ work better. I think people a lot of times, fall into the trap and the mistake that I see commonly made by professional services forums is they, pardon my potty humor but, they “we” all over themselves. Do you know what I’m talking about there Josh?
Josh: I think that’s when they say, we this and we that and we, we, we.
David: Yes. Exactly. You can share that joke with your five-year-old son. Yeah. You don’t want to we all over yourself.
Josh: Everybody likes dad jokes.
David: Yeah. It doesn’t. It’s not very interesting. It’s like a relationship with somebody who talks only about themselves and doesn’t offer anything of value. I kind of like to think of it like this 6:1 ratio. I’ve heard as much as 10:1 where you’re offering content that’s valuable to your client, useful tips for making them smarter, faster better and then that affords you that latitude, so six of those, to one we content.
We content would be the equivalent of a project we just won, we just hired this key new hire, we just won this award. I get so much email from firms in our space and they just are constantly … it feels like you’re just bragging the whole time.
David: What am I supposed to do with that? Okay. Great. I’m proud but it just doesn’t have the resonance and lasting power of offering something of value.
Josh: I think even, the softer side of we is when you’re sharing culture or sharing people and when it feels conversational or story-like. I know story’s an important word for you too David. When I feel like somebody is telling me something that I’m excited to hear about, it’s a lot different, even if it is all about … if it’s a fun, a light, or interesting or human sided story, that makes me a lot more interested to dig into it than it does when it’s just announcing that next project or that new hire.
David: Right. Doesn’t everybody really think their own content is interesting? How do you get to that sort of human part? I think you do it well. I’m just curious if we can offer some tips.
Josh: Yeah. I think when it really sounds conversational. One of the tips that I’ve heard for blogging that I’ve tried to apply to email whenever possible is thinking about, what if you were just writing to one person? I think sometimes it’s helpful to think exactly, literally one person. It can be an imaginary person. Okay, I’m going to write to this marketing manager and she has X years of experience in the business and she deals with these kinds of problems and she wants to learn one, two, and three, and her life would just be easier if she could just figure out these things.
If I just think about, I’m always writing to her, what would my next message be to her if I was trying to encourage her along or trying to help her out or teach her something? I think that really changes the tone of the email and makes it kind of naturally conversational and friendlier. It’s kind of speaking to an audience. When you pick somebody out in the audience and you make eye contact with them, I think it’s that same thing with the email.
When you have written that feeling like you’ve written to one person, everybody who reads that says, “Oh, they were writing to me. This is a great email.”
David: Yeah. Is that amazing? Yeah. Absolutely. For sure.
Josh: It’s much more engaging email to read that kind of message I think.
David: Totally. One idea that our studio audience can think about is, just keep listening, listening to your clients and what are the problems that they’re consistently facing? Those can be great topics. By the same token, what are the answers that you consistently give? That’s great fodder for email copy. Of course, you want that copy to live on your blog so that it has a life well beyond just the email. Maybe we could transition a little bit into that relationship between email and a blog. I know there’s a couple different schools of thought.
One is, have the entire message in the body of the email. Another one is, send just a teaser within the body of the email to encourage the user to click from the email, onto your turf, which is now the website, own-able media. Do you have any preference there Josh?
Josh: Well, interestingly enough, I have fully subscribed to both schools of thought at one point or another in hopes of keeping my emails short back when, this was kind of the early days of email for my firm, 2005, 2006. We were just experimenting with this thing called email marketing. We would do these very we focused and it was always like, “Here’s the latest project. Here’s the thing that we just won. Here’s an award. Here’s a client that did something that was in the news.” We would have a one liner about that project and, “Click here to read more.” The next client, “Click here to read more.” The next client, and shocking, very few people clicked through unless it was a face or a really cool image, then they would click on the images or the faces but they wouldn’t click on the “read more” as much.
Josh: Fast forward to 2013 or ’14, we started sending out these emails that were very conversational and we started treating it the opposite. We started really building up our email list and subscriber list from our blog. We were pulling in email from the website as opposed to previously, we were trying to send our email subscribers back to the web. In this case, when we flipped it around, we really tried to keep all of the conversation, literally, in the inbox.
We would end a lot of our messages with a question or a challenge or something to provoke thought. We’d say things like, “Tell us about a time when you had something like this. What has your biggest challenge been in this area? Share an idea with us. Do you love this idea or hate it?” Then we’d always end it with, “Hit reply and let us know.” When you have that personal email address as the sending email and they hit reply, it literally just comes back to our inbox.
It was a really cool way. Obviously, it was a smaller number of subscribers who would actually do that but the ones who did would realize, “Oh, he’s actually sending and responding to these emails.” It really extends that personal relationship piece of it.
David: Right. It felt like you were there for somebody if they had a question or wanted to respond right within the email.
Josh: Yeah. Obviously, it feels really accessible when you get an email from somebody and you hit reply and then they write back to you. It’s kind of mind blowing. Peter Shankman’s another marketing guy out there. I’ve had a very similar experience with him recently. He was a speaker at a regional conference earlier this year and I subscribed to his list and hit reply to the auto-thanks for signing up and told him what I liked about his talk.
He wrote back and had very specific things to that talk in response so I knew it was him or someone who was very well trained in what was going on in his show. That was pretty cool.
David: It wasn’t a bot.
Josh: That’s right. Probably not a bot. Would have been a really good bot if it were.
Josh: What do you think about including calls to action inside of an email or buttons or that idea of read more? How often are you seeing that successful or how would you advise firms to handle those?
David: Right. My example is my own in that I’ve been tracking my firm as a professional services firm. Our list is 1,539 people and we’ve done some A/B testing. I was designing an email and wanted to test whether a fully designed email that utilizes some of the bells and whistles that these email services provide versus just plain text email with a link. I did it two different times.
In both cases, the plain text emails had … I’ll just give you the numbers. 17.2% opened for designed versus 23.5% for the plain text. For the second time, it was 25.2% opened for the design and 30.3% opened for the plain text. In both cases, the plain text email had a higher open rate and a higher click through rate.
Josh: Isn’t that interesting.
David: That may just be the audience. I think that there’s also some concerns that when you include a lot of graphics and pictures, that it could get flagged as potentially spam and that might not reach your intended user, in which case, your open rates would be lower. Yeah. Lately, my approach has been simple plain text with a link because I do want to get them over to the site where hopefully, they can stumble upon other articles and if they’re interested in services, they can learn about that. My goal is to get them to the site.
Yeah. I think the key is just knowing what your plan is and knowing how you’re going to do it. There isn’t one right way to do it but probably the right answer is just to know what you’re doing and be intentional about it so that you can execute on that.
Josh: Dude, I feel like we’ve gone through a lot of really cool stuff on emails so far but we’ve got so much left to go here. Maybe we should actually split this up into a second episode and release this as a little bonus for everybody. What do you think about that?
David: Yeah. I think that’s great. We have been publishing our episodes every other week and this is such a hot topic and I’m into it, I want to keep going. Let’s wrap up for now. Let’s call each other in a week and do part two of this and then we’ll release them in subsequent weeks so people will just only have to wait one week. Today is November 17th, we’ll release the next one on the 24th. Does that sound good?
Josh: Yeah. That sounds good.
Episode 105 on Email Marketing
Josh Miles: Yeah. Sometimes I just love nerding out on nerdy stuff, and e-mail marketing is definitely one of those kind of nerdy topics. But as we talked about in episode 104, when it comes to e-mail marketing with great power comes great responsibility. I’m excited. If you haven’t listened to episode 104 yet, please go back and do that because David and I covered the nitty gritty of why e-mail is a great tool in professional services, better ways to look at subject lines and the importance of those, and the sender. We really just started digging into the actual content of the e-mail itself. Today, I’m think we’re just going to pick up in the area of building your list. David, what are some of the good ways to build your list when it comes to e-mail marketing?
David Lecours: I think you have two choices. One is build it organically, which means adding people in an opt-in kind of manner. You meet somebody, you ask them either in-person or via e-mail, “Hey, can I add you to my mailing list?” Or another way of organic building is that they go to your site, they fill out a call-to-action form and they give you permission to send them information. They’ve opted-in to your list. That would be organic.
The other method is purchasing a list. There are sellers of lists out there and you can buy e-mail addresses and build your list that way. Both have pros and cons, but this is a bit of a numbers game. You want to have as big a targeted list as you can. You don’t want numbers for the sake of ego. You really want people that are prospective clients, now or in the future, so it’s not just about getting your cousin in to your list, or your whole family. It’s having targeted members.
Those are the two approaches. I have explored purchasing a list, but it didn’t make sense. I wasn’t convinced that the list was quality. I knew they were going to give me a bunch of names and e-mail addresses, I just wasn’t convinced that they were going to be targeted enough. I’m a super targeted marketer and my firm is exclusively focused on the architecture, engineering, construction industry. A lot of these list sellers are building their lists based on advertising buys, and architecture, engineering, construction doesn’t do a lot of ad buys, so like I said, I wasn’t convinced that the list was going to be valuable.
I may have not done enough research, but how about you, Josh? Where do you sit on this organic versus purchasing list?
Josh Miles: Yeah, we talked a little bit about this on the last episode. Again, if you haven’t listened to 104, go back and do that, but kind of in the early days of marketing for us, we were doing the business card thing. Any time we had an intern, one of their weekly tasks would be to enter all of my business cards into our e-mail marketing program and making sure that that database was up to date, and then we would just blast away to that group. Today, it’s even more permission based where most of our e-mail subscribers are coming from our website and blog traffic. I think we’re averaging something like 50 or 60 new sign ups a week, which is kind of ridiculous, but we’ve got a couple of blog pieces out there that are working hard for us, and really helping build that list. The main things that we’re looking for are also what the real e-mail nerds will call List Hygiene, which is just making sure that when we’re sending an e-mail out to thousands of people, that those thousands are still receiving that e-mail and they’re opening it.
If we have someone who goes multiple sends without even an open, we’ll just go ahead and take them off the list because it’s not doing anything for our sending scores to have people who are not even opening the e-mail. If we know they’re going to delete a couple in a row, then we’ll just go ahead and take them off the list.
David Lecours: Just to clarify, when Josh says it’s “ridiculous” that they get 50 or 60 a week, I think he means it’s ridiculously great. Right?
Josh Miles: Yes. Ridiculously great.
David Lecours: Sometimes we’re not sure with Josh’s Indianapolis vernacular. Just want to clarify for our listeners.
Josh Miles: When I say ridiculous, I mean good. It’s been, I think, successful beyond what I expected it to be. David and I were talking a little bit before we hit record here, about we’ve got a couple of blog posts that are now outperforming our homepage. The homepage is actually the 4th or 5th most popular page on our site, which means we’re getting a lot of organic traffic. That organic traffic, we could talk about that content strategy later, but that organic traffic is really what’s driving new subscribers to our e-mail list. Ultimately, people who want to hear from us, which is a pretty cool thing.
David Lecours: In short, build your list, we don’t proselytize, whether it’s organic, organic does seem to lend itself a little better to people signing up, raising their hand saying, “Yes, you can send me things.” In either case, you might want to include at the bottom of one of your e-mails, a request to be white listed, white listed meaning that you have gone into your e-mail service’s spam filter to tell it, “Yes, this person who is sending me things is a viable source. It’s not spam.” It’s basically just making sure that the e-mail doesn’t go directly to spam. Adding somebody to your address book is another way to whitelist. You want to make sure that your e-mail gets to your audience.
Josh Miles: What about when you send out an e-mail to your audience, David, or as you’re coaching your clients on this, do you do the standard batch and blast where you’ve got, just everybody gets everything, or do you do more customized groupings, or do you do any customization within the message itself so that at least mine says, “Hey, Josh,” or it has my company’s name somewhere in the body? What level of customization and segmentation are you looking at typically?
David Lecours: Right. What I do, and what I advise my clients to do are actually different. I’ll explain why. Because my firm is so specialized, architecture, engineering and construction, I do actually have those lists segmented just in case I want to send something specific, but I don’t know, 99 times out of 100, the message has been relevant to all three of those audiences. I send all my e-mails to all my list. For my clients, because a lot of them work in so many different vertical markets, they may be an architecture firm that works in the commercial space, they may be working in education, they may be working in universities, they may be working in transportation, all these different sectors, their messaging and their e-mails are probably going to be specific to that particular market. They want to actually segment their list, and only send the e-mail that’s relevant to that specific audience.
The more relevant, the better. I did a little A/B testing with this where I sent out, and one of my subject lines included the term, “A/E/C Firm,” and one of the subject lines included “Engineering Firm.” It was ever more specific. The results of the “Engineering Firm” were several percentage points higher than just the more generic “A/E/C Firm.” Point is, be specific and send your list to a specific audience.
Josh Miles: Yeah, and I think we’re probably similar to that. Really, the only segmentation that we use regularly within our agency and what we send out to our prospects is that my business partner and I each have our own lists that come through. If it’s something he’s written, it’ll by default sign you up for his list, and then we give folks the opportunity to also sign up for mine. Because we do a very personal touch on our e-mails. As we talked a little bit last time, we try to make them sound like they’re really written for one person, and just coming personally from me or from Daniel. The flavor that you’re going to get between the two, as you’d expect when you’re getting e-mails from two totally different people, they sound different, they read differently. That’s kind of the chief segmentation, but then we also break it down for, we’ve got one group that’s called our Highly Engaged Group. This is like if we send it, they are going to open it, and they’re probably going to click on it. That always pads our stats a bit if we send out to that group.
Then, there are kind of the larger lists or the combined lists, which are more of the announcement kind of e-mails. Those are things that are not just me musing about something, but something that’s more appropriate to send to the whole group. Certainly, I agree with the idea of more segmentation is probably better, especially if you serve multiple verticals and have maybe different flavor you might want to present your brand to each of those segments.
David Lecours: Yeah, you said something interesting when you mentioned this highly engaged group. How do you know that they’re highly engaged, and then what do you do about that in order to repurpose that highly engaged group?
Josh Miles: Yeah, that’s a good question. I think our full list is somewhere around 10,000 people. Our engaged list, the folks who would typically open an e-mail is about 4,000 combined, and then I think between Daniel and I, we each have somewhere between 750 to 1,000 a piece who we would consider are highly engaged, which is those are the ones that are most likely to open and likely to click as well. We’re looking at the stats that our e-mail service provider provides on a per e-mail basis, and we just try to go in there and update as we can and make sure that we’re keeping things really tidy, and that we’re not sending two e-mail addresses where somebody maybe switched jobs. This might be what’s called a hardbound, so the e-mail doesn’t go through anymore, or a softbound, so something where maybe they just got a delay or something.
Just trying to keep really tidy records and making sure that we know who’s getting what. If it’s something that we feel like just the choir is going to be interested in, we make sure we’re not sending that to the whole community.
David Lecours: Yeah, and I think any good e-mail service provider will give you metrics and let you know who opened your e-mail. Then, you can create a new list from the last campaign. Let’s say 300 out of 1,000 opened your e-mail, you can create this new list, and I would call those, “Engaged Viewers.” One of the benefits of working with, or using an e-mail service provider rather than trying to run your e-mail campaign straight from your e-mail, which would be a nightmare.
Josh Miles: Yeah. I think it’s good, too, to have a general idea of what your typical open stats look like. From an e-mail marketing response standpoint, you’re obviously looking for higher percentage. You’re seldom ever going to have an e-mail where 100% of people are opening the e-mail, but as David and I talked a little bit earlier, sometimes those stats may be kind of worst-case scenario. If the tracking pixel doesn’t fire or something, you may actually be getting more opens that what you’re showing, but we know that our lists are going to get anywhere between high teens to low 40’s in percent of open rates, so a 40% open rate is really fantastic, and the high teens is still pretty strong. I think you can see really lousy e-mails, might be below 10%.
Each time you send one, if you get different numbers, that’s actually a helpful thing. You start to get some feedback from your own audience. Not just industry list, not just trends, not just what somebody else is doing, but only your list is your list. Your list may behave a little bit differently than others. It’s good to try things like playful headlines in the subject versus something that’s really straightforward, and see which things start to perform better.
David Lecours: Absolutely. Yeah, I think our egos can get caught up in wanting to have everybody open our e-mail and read it, and it’s just not realistic. Like you said, your list is your list. I think the key is with this open rates, and any measurement, it’s looking for differences between one campaign to the next, and what can you learn from that, rather than playing the comparison game versus industry average. Seeing what type of content is resonating most, and obviously serving up some more of that, or thinking about is it a poor really written headline or subject line that is hampering that particular post, that isn’t … Just to throw out some numbers for you guys, MarketingSherpa, a digital marketing resource says anything about 20% is a good open rate. MailChimp says 15.5% is the industry average for the audience that my firm is trying to hit. The Architecture, Engineering, Construction. Those are just some basics that give me a sense of where we are.
That’s one thing, is open rates. You want to talk a little bit about click-thru rates?
Josh Miles: Yeah, we could talk about that too. I think when we talk about click-thrus, it sort of implies that you have something within the e-mail that you want something to click on.
David Lecours: Yeah, that’s a great point.
Josh Miles: I mean, there are so many e-mails that I look at that are … Sometimes this is the case, that it’s really just you want to share a message and there’s not really anything that you need to do. It’s just our internet service provider at the office will send us a message that says, “We just want you to know that we’ve got this regular maintenance thing going on, and it’s going to happen at 4AM tonight, and there are no expected outages for your area. If you have questions, give us a call.” There’s nothing to click on ever in those e-mails, so I bet their click-thru rate is pretty horrible. The goal was not to have a click-thru, it’s just to share that message, but it’s something to think about if you want someone to click on something, we always encourage giving them a couple different opportunities whether it’s hyperlink within the paragraph, or you mention the words of the thing that you want them to do, or even following up that paragraph with a button where it’s a really obvious, big, shiny button that has words on it that say, kind of complete the sentence of what it is you want somebody to do like download the white paper or get the goods, or something like that, or the button name is something more than just submit.
David Lecours: Right.
Josh Miles: I always like having something visual to help people want to click thru. As I shared in the last episode, we’ve always seen not only buttons, but also like faces and interesting images get lots of clicks as well. How about you?
David Lecours: Picture of people seem to really do well. I sent out an e-mail recently announcing this podcast, and it had our pictures on it. It was one of the highest open rates and click-thrus that I’ve had in a long time. I guess people like looking at us. I don’t know if they like hearing us, but they liked our picture. That’s something.
Josh Miles: Little did we know, it was like an aggressive click in the face. It’s like, “Get that guy out of here.”
David Lecours: Yeah, but I think this click-thru thing can be depressing. You see like an average click-thru of 6%, and you go like, “Oh man, that’s all?” They may open the thing and they don’t click on it, but like you mentioned, it may be because they got as much as they needed from your e-mail and opening it was enough. I wouldn’t get too hung up on those numbers. I think you should keep track of them and see what’s trending just for your own learning curb. The other thing I wouldn’t get too hung up on is unsubscribes. I would say we send out about 1500 per message, we get of like 10 to 12 on average unsubscribes each time. I have to admit, I look at those and see who’s unsubscribing and I track them down and call them. No I don’t. I don’t call them.
Josh Miles: Grab them by the lapels.
David Lecours: We all unsubscribe from lists. Sometimes they give you a reason why and sometimes they don’t.
Josh Miles: I think the reason in my mind, more often than not, is just they get too much e-mail. I think that’s also kind of code for “I’m not getting enough value out of all the e-mail that I have to deal with during the day. It’s just another reminder of how important it is to send out valuable messages that are not so “we” or “us” focused.
David Lecours: Yeah, and I think that goes back to what we talked about in the last episode, was that with great power comes great responsibility. That this medium is free and it’s easy, and as a result, we get lumped in with all the other e-mails. There’s this afterglow or aftertaste of somebody getting an e-mail from you, it already has, “Okay, now what? Another e-mail.” Your e-mails have got to be really compelling and interesting to cut through that haze, or that sort of maybe bad taste that somebody has about e-mail in general. Let your e-mail be this shining beacon of hope and inspiration, and whim, and whimsy, so that it does stand out against all the other stuff that people are getting.
Josh Miles: Speaking of that a little bit, do you think it matters when you send the e-mail out?
David Lecours: Yeah. This is the golden question. If I’m ever speaking at a conference people ask, “what day of the week and what time do I need to send my e-mail?” In most cases, I can’t answer that for you, but your data probably can. Look at and track these things, and see what is working best for you, which is why you need to look at the metrics. I typically don’t send things on Mondays because I feel like people are inundated, they’re just getting their week started. By the same token, I don’t send things on Fridays because I feel like people have checked out. I found Tuesdays and Wednesdays, mid day works, the numbers support it. It has been working well, but also maybe somebody catches something right before their lunch break and I’m hoping that they’re going to read it. This assumes of course they’re on my own timezone. Yeah, that’s been worked well for me.
By the same token, if everybody has the same sort of thinking and everybody’s sending their e-mails at the same time, your e-mail is going to fall into a whole batch of stuff. It’s a little bit of cat and mouse. Trying to figure out when you’ll stand out, and then also when you’re audience is more treceptive to receiving emails. Any tips you have for that, Josh?
Josh Miles: Yeah, I feel like that first thing Tuesday or right before lunch on Tuesdays is a stat that I’ve heard quite a lot. We’ve experimented with that. I think it’s cool that, and maybe more than just MailChimp offers this, but I just saw it in MailChip recently that they offer this, I figured they call it Time Machine or something, but basically you can set it for 9AM and then you can tell it to also send to 9AM east coast, central, pacific, so you can have it send within your given timezone at the same time. That’s kind of nice too, but I often feel like, “Well, I don’t want to send it to the west coast at 2 in the morning. The last thing I want is for somebody to be awoken by an e-mail from MilesHerndon. It’s cool that you can balance that out with that kind of sender.
I think you’re totally right, we all hear as marketers that first thing on Tuesday or 11AM on Wednesday is the best time to send, then you notice … I literally do notice how many e-mails on Tuesday and Wednesday I get at 11AM. It’s like right before I start to go to lunch, and I just hear the ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, and they all show up at once. I’m like, “What is going on?” I think, again, test it out with your audience. I even heard that occasionally a weekend send can get a really great open rate, because in the right industry, people are kind of relaxed and they’re in that hang out and just playing on their phone, and maybe they’re more likely to open that e-mail when they’re in a different mindset. Something else to experiment with.
David Lecours: Yeah, I think the key here is this experiment and track, and measure, and then that’ll give you the answer. Josh, what about frequency? We talked about time a day, but how many e-mails should you be sending to somebody?
Josh Miles: When we were doing these very conversational e-mails from our firm, we were aiming for one per week, but I would send my list every other week, and Daniel would send his list every other week. Admittedly, there was only about 15% of overlap. It felt like we were doing a weekly e-mail, but in effect, it was really probably in every other week. That was still a lot to keep up with, just to write that many trying to be thoughtful and keeping the frequency and quality up. I think even moving to a monthly e-mails is not a bad idea either. It’s all about what kind of content calendar your firm can keep up with and how often you can commit to publishing and shipping. What do you guys shoot for?
David Lecours: Yeah, I think safe to say go for quality, not quantity. I think it’s good to commit to it, an editorial calendar where you’re going to publish just to keep yourself on target with some rigor and some discipline, but not sacrifice quality. If you just don’t have anything great, don’t put it out. I’ve been doing about once a month, and that feels right to me. Then just into it, if I don’t have specific metrics to back that up, I just feel like if I’m getting stuff from other people and it starts to get more frequent, and I start to tune out a little, this way, yeah I’d be willing to break that rule, of course, if there was something really interesting to send mid-month. Do you recommend doing any sort of testing before you send out an e-mail?
Josh Miles: Yeah, I feel like when we do e-mail, I end up sending myself a dozen or more tests before it finally goes live, because at first I’m like, “All right, nailed it, first try.” I look at that draft and I’m like, “Oh thank goodness, I’m proofing this again.” I always like to proof it both from that desktop view what it looks like in the browser and then also obviously looking at it on my phone, because so many people do that e-mail triage on their phone, and figure out if they want to delete or keep something at that point. Do you have any tips on testing as well?
David Lecours: Well, a good e-mail service provider will give you that view of what it would look like in a web browser on a desktop, what it would look like on a tablet, what it would look like on a phone, I think that is important. I think it’s key to send it to yourself and also somebody else. We’re terrible at proofreading our own stuff, so send it to a trusted employee or colleague or somebody just to make sure it reads right, the grammar is right, the spelling is right, and then, by all means, test all the links. Make sure that they’re not old and residual links from the last e-mail you sent. Make sure they’re the right link to the right place. If you’re including links. It’s just embarrassing. You don’t want to send that retroactive e-mail. “Sorry, I screwed up the first time.” In fact, I wouldn’t even do that. If you do that, just …
Josh Miles: Just let it die.
David Lecours: Yeah, let it go. Depending on your level of interest in testing, you can really get serious. The testing examples Josh and I just gave are the free ones that come with your e-mail service provider. There are services out there, the one that is coming to mind is Sauce Labs, where you can really get deep on what an e-mail is going to look like in all the different e-mail clients, all the different ways it might show up. It can run some tests about how effective deliverability can be. It just depends on whether you want to pay for that next level. Personally, I haven’t felt the need to, but it’s nice to know that that kind of service is out there.
Josh Miles: Yeah. We’ve used another one called Litmus, too, which is one of the industry leaders in testing for deliverability and all that good stuff.
David Lecours: Absolutely. That’s a good one. In fact, maybe Sauce Labs creates Litmus. We’ll get back to you on that. Note: Josh is correct, it is Litmus, not Sauce Labs.
Josh Miles: We’ll put those notes in the show notes. David, that seems like maybe a good point to wrap it up. Anything you want to add on the e-mail front?
David Lecours: Yeah, just know that there’s a lot of e-mail service providers out there. You probably have your favorite. I’m used to MailChimp. I can’t say that one is better. Try a couple, figure out what’s the best plan for you. Yeah, we covered when to send, we talked about segmenting your list, building your list, and then of course measuring. Making sure you know what’s working for you and what’s not. Yeah, just in general, I want to put it out to the audience, we really want to hear from you guys. We’ve done a couple episodes just Josh and I, specifically on this topic. What are the best practices that are working with you for e-mail marketing? We’d love to … If there’s a really great comment, we’ll pass it on to our readers. The way you get in touch with us is to go to www.psm.show, and scroll down to “contact us.”
Josh Miles: I love that even in the first few episodes here, we’ve already had several listeners filling out that form and sending this questions, and sending us ideas, and even pitching us as to if we’d be interested in interviewing or interviewing other people that they’ve thought of. That’s exactly how we want you to use that form. Please, as David said, head over to psm.show and check out episodes and show notes there, as well as tell us what you think.
David Lecours: Yeah, so that brings us to the end of episode 105 of PSM show. If you’re listening via the PSM Show website, going over to iTunes, Stitcher, or any favorite podcast player and subscribe. It’s a pain to try to seek this out and remember how great it is. Just put yourself on a regular drip so that it comes right in through your player and you can listen to it. Even better, if you like this show, the best thing you can do is go to iTunes and give us a rating. That’s going to help boost us in the rankings, and get this out to your colleagues who can benefit from. Absolutely, as we mentioned, if you have questions or comments, write to us via psm.show. That’s it from this episode of www.psm.show. From Josh Miles and myself, David Lecours, cheers for now.