Do Your Subscribers Love You? 7 Strategies for Improving Email Engagement

Posted on by Dana VanDen Heuvel

bigstock Red Heart Shape And E mail 12341939 200x300 Do Your Subscribers Love You? 7 Strategies for Improving Email EngagementIf you’re a marketer who is seeking greater business performance from your email marketing, you need to pay attention to email engagement and mind the factors that make up the engagement scores that the major email providers (Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, etc.) track today.

Pull out your latest email tracking report. What are you measuring? Open rates? Click through, total clicks, bounces and so forth? While these are all important metrics, what we’re really looking for is a combination of factors that

Email Engagement Metrics

The ‘dirty little secret’ in the email marketing industry is that your email campaigns are less and less under your direct control every year. Sure, the deliverability of your email marketing campaigns is somewhat under your control, but the new tools that email providers have installed for email subscribers has given them more control than ever over what gets into their inbox in the first place.

All that said, email deliverability has never been higher. Coming into Q4 of 2012, deliverability was at about 96% according to the Epsilon Q4 2012 Email Trends and Benchmark report. So you’ve got that going for you…

The following diagram shows the stages of engagement in email marketing that need to be measured, according to the DMA.

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So what metrics play into engagement? Let’s have a look at the most popular ones across email providers.

Open rate – Does your email get opened across their network or not? What gets emails opened? From and subject lines. If they know and trust you, and then you’ve created a magnetic subject line that sucks the reader in, you’re on your way.

Clickthrough rate – Yes, email subscribers know who gets the clicks and who doesn’t. If you’re not using effective calls to action to get people out of the email and to your site, now’s the time to test the design, language and offers in your email.

TINS (This is not Spam) – This is when someone actually pulls your email out of the SPAM folder and moves it back into the inbox. Trust me, it happens, and if you’re a recognized sender with must-read messaging, your subscribers are going to save you from the depths of SPAM hell more times that you might realize.

Email deletions – Does your email get saved, or deleted when your subscriber receives it?

Abuse complaints - The major web-based email tools make it almost too-easy for people to hit the SPAM button. Send to often, they hit the button. Send from an unrecognized sender, they hit the button. Have a cumbersome unsubscribe process, they hit the button.

Individual preferences - Not only is it more challenging to reach your list, it’s even more challenging at the level of the individual who can put you in a folder, filter or some other categorization that diminishes the impact of your email.

Who sent the email – If you receive a lot of messages from XYZ company, and you often open, don’t delete and don’t mark as SPAM, Gmail and others think that you likely enjoy receiving messages from XYZ company.

The terms and keywords in the email – Is marketing your thing and do you read every email about marketing? If so, email providers will let more of those into your inbox, and Gmail specifically may help those messages find their way to the top of the Priority Inbox.

Auto-learning – Finally, some of the factors that affect deliverability are out of the control of both you and your subscriber as the email platforms use auto-learning to predict SPAM and ensure that their users get only the email they want.

If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed after reading that list, I don’t blame you. Look on the bright side, however, everyone has to play by the same rules here! Let’s look at a few strategies for securing your space in your subscriber’s inbox.

Learn more: New Changes in Microsoft Hotmail: What Every Marketer Should Know

Learn more: [Infographic] Why Users Become Disengaged With Your Email

How to Improve Email Engagement

1. Consistency - This isn’t a metric as much as it is a discipline. Every email marketer and marketing company will tell you that somewhere between 35.4% and 69% will unsubscribe due to too many emails, but there’s little data to guide you on ideal frequency.

Consistency is key, but the ideal combination of frequency and consistency will vary for each brand. How do you find out? Testing. Yes, testing. Want to know how to test? Read this post by HubSpot and follow the 5 steps listed to determine your ideal frequency and consistency metric.

2. Focus – When your subscribers know what to expect, they anticipate, dare I say “look forward to” receiving your wisdom and value in their inbox. If you’ve not updated (or created) your editorial focus and calendar for your newsletter this year (or ever), now is the time to take a hard look at what you’re sending and what your audience wants you to send.

There’s an interesting case on how CNET went from 30 newsletters in their portfolio down to 16 that you should peruse. While it may not directly apply to all of you, it’s worth a glance, as I know you’ll glean some insights.

3. Animated GIFs – I know, these seem so 1999, but recent research shows that animated GIFs in email marketing have a very positive impact on email performance and engagement. As reported in MarketingProfs, animated gifs and cinemagraphs produce higher transaction-to-click rates: 72% of email marketers who have used animated gifs or cinemagraphs have recorded higher transaction-to-click rates, compared with bulk emails to the same customers.

Learn more: Creative tips and examples of how to utilize animation in your email marketing messages

4. Triggered messages - Triggered emails, based on such things as Welcome, Cart Abandonment, Thank You, Special Dates, Purchase Anniversary, Category Views and so forth have increased dramatically in the past few years and are one of the keys to improved overall subscriber engagement.

Using triggered messages is a proven strategy to maintain subscriber engagement, but it also requires marketers to understand much more about each individual consumer and create a strategy that takes a personalized approach.

Learn more: The Ultimate Lifecycle Email Marketing Guide: Event-Triggered Alerts

5. Optimize for sharing (beyond SWYN) – Encouraging content sharing (and feature your first call to action) in the first 300 pixels of the email if you want to make an impact with those that are still using the email preview mode (many corporate users still do if they’re on Outlook).

Think beyond share buttons, by understanding what drives people to share. It could be a great infographic, a useful video, data points or any form of great content asset that you’ve mentioned in your email. The smart folks at Eloqua recommend that you “break up your email copy with artwork, boxed information and interactive calls-to-action, through a video or image.”

Learn more: Email Marketing Creative Best Practices and Techniques (via Cheetamail)

6. Cleanse or re-engage your email list regularly – The best emailers regularly evaluate their subscribers on the list and engage either in email list cleansing or launch a subscriber re-engagement campaign. Both can have positive results, but the bottom line here is that we have the best subscribers on our list who are engaged and who actually want to hear from us.

7. Follow some of the smart advice below from the MarketingSherpa 2013 Email Marketing Benchmark Survey.

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