Optimizing your email marketing list: Content, segmentation, and reactivating quiet subscribers

You spend hours perfecting your copy, then cross your fingers and fire your carefully honed email off into cyberspace. Yet your website remains quiet, your order book isn’t filling at the speed of light… what went wrong?

The single most important factor that will impact the success rates of your email is the quality of your data. This makes proactively managing and maintaining your email list an essential task.

What sort of response to my email should I expect?

To assess how effective your email marketing is, measure:

  • Open rate: How many people open the email
  • Click-thru rate: How many people click on at least one of the links in the email
  • Unsubscribe rate: How many people unsubscribe as a result of your email
  • Forward rate: How many people forward your email
Expect a typical open rate to be around 15% to 25% and a typical click-thru rate to be around 2% to 5%.

However, these averages vary quite widely by industry – so it’s worth comparing your performance with those of your industry peers.

If your open rates are significantly below the averages for your sector, or you are getting more than a handful of unsubscribes on each email, you’re doing one of two things wrong: Either your content sucks or you’re using bad data.

  • For example, MailChimp lists a typical open rate for Non-Profit organizations as being around 24.98% and a typical open rate for Government communications is up at around 26.33% (2017 figures).
  • Meanwhile, click-thru rates for Government emails are around 3.62%; non-profits are at 2.76%. Hobby emails have the highest click-thru rate at around 5.13% (and an open rate of 28.46%).

Average Email Campaign Stats of MailChimp Customers by Industry. Click to see the full list

Informed consent is your best friend

Let’s assume you have optimized your content to maximize open rates. Now, the best way to make sure you’re sending your emails to people who are going to open them, click through, and book or purchase is to study them.

If you’re experiencing poor open rates and a lot of unsubscribes, it is important to start asking questions about where that list came from.

If you’re buying lists of email addresses, it’s going to take a lot more to persuade someone to open your email when they have little or no existing relationship with your brand. Worse, you’re spamming people who haven’t heard of you—and that’s not a great first touchpoint.

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) makes informed consent essential if you have any EU citizens on your email list. Serious financial penalties can be levied on organizations that do not comply.

Building a good email list is all about hard work:

  • Give people plenty of opportunity to sign up to your email list across your online channels and social media.
  • Make signup forms as simple as possible—get the email address first; get details (address, phone, company name, etc.) later.
  • Offer something valuable to people in exchange for signing up for your email marketing (e.g., a whitepaper or “how-to” guide, or a discount off an online sale).
  • Work with trusted partners that are relevant to your target groups and who can help you expand your list.
  • Understand that building a good list can be a slow process, but will be worth it in terms of improved responses.

Reactivate the slack subscriber

As you continue to build your list—this is a job with no endpoint—it is important to manage the list proactively.

If people stop engaging, it will impact on your open and click-thru rates. For this reason, sending a reactivation email to people who have not opened an email within the past six months can be very effective. Shoot them an offer with a customized subject line and letter. For instance: “Jane, We miss you! Can we tempt you back with 10% off?”

Segment for success

MailChimp reports that email campaigns that are segmented enjoy a 14.31% higher open rate than non-segmented campaigns, and a 100.95% higher click-thru than non-segmented campaigns.

Today’s digital marketing and email campaign tools give organizations more options to segment data. Instead of being limited to traditional geo-demographic segmentation, you can focus on behavioral data to segment your lists.

One of the most powerful behavioral-based email strategies is retargeting. Automating emails to go out to customers following an abandoned shopping cart, for example, is a powerful way to boost open rates, click-thrus and sales. This is a simple and effective tool and should be part of every brand’s email strategy.

Measure and learn

Review and compare historical data about email open rates, click-thrus and sales. From this, you can begin to see patterns emerging that will enable you to understand optimal times, days of the week, month, and year for sending emails. Review what content and messaging works and adapt your messaging and timing accordingly.

Over time, you will come to learn what your email list will respond to. This is a continual process—like building your list, it will never be complete. But your steadily increasing open rates and click-thru rates will be reward enough.

Management consultant and brand strategist for small teams. Fan of dark tea, thick books, peace, and unity.

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