How to Increase Email Response Rates

Click below for an expert’s answers

Chris Blohm

Dee Blohm

Jim Davidson
Bronto Software

Bill Kaplan


Daryl Logullo
Fulfillment Services

Loren McDonald

Angel Morales
Smarter Remarketer

Benjamin Rothfeld


Jay Schwedelson

Dana Shirlen
Adam & Eve

Chad White

Jaimey Wilman
Action Bag

Chris Blohm, senior vice president, data & media services, MeritDirect

Maximize the ROI via social
When sending an email, make sure you are giving the recipient plenty of options to connect with you. MeritDirect and Penton Media recently collaborated on an initiative to include links to social outlets embedded in the outbound email. That gives the recipient the ability to share with their connections, maximizing the reach and overall ROI on the email effort.

You do not necessarily have to close a sale on the initial email. Give the recipient the opportunity to sign up for a free newsletter, follow you on Twitter, or download a whitepaper so they can learn more about your company, your product or service

Data is king
In a prospecting environment, data is paramount. Make sure you have done due diligence on the list source, and selected your audience carefully. There are a lot of dubious list sources which can cause harm to your online reputation and email delivery. Make sure the company you are dealing with is reputable, and do not be afraid to ask questions.

The least expensive data option is not always the best, and “you get what you pay for.” Data integrity and target audience are key components of a successful, scalable campaign so do not sort your options by price and hit send.

Dee Blohm, Vice President, Data & Media Services, MeritDirect

List hygiene
Before you press send to transmit your message, is your list as clean as it can possibly be? Have remove requests been removed? Bounces been scrubbed? There is a positive cascading effect for maintaining a clean list: A clean list is a deliverable list and a deliverable list keeps ISPs happy. Happy ISPs don’t report you to 3rd party monitoring services, so your mail remains deliverable. And we all know that getting to the inbox helps the response rate.

Contact frequency
Invariably, a small percentage of customers will unsubscribe with every message. It’s important to set a contact frequency program for your email list so that you don’t inundate your buyers with offers. You can modify the frequency and monitor the sales v. unsubscribe requests so that you set an acceptable rate of return. Recognizing that threshold is key to your response rates.

List aging
Frequent communication can numb the reader to your offers. Your highest response will typically come from the newest responders while the response rate for older responders will trail off with time. Creating a new cell of older customers will definitely improve the response rate on the newer segment – but let’s do more than that. Create a a strategy to revive the activity on that older cell. Start by giving them a rest- then send segment a special and see if you can’t generate a little more sales activity on their part and renewed confidence in your brand.

Subject line
You have just a few seconds to grab the reader’s eye which will result in either an open or a delete – so you must make those 50 or so characters work for you. Be clear and to the point, try to avoid being cute or catchy. Don’t be afraid to personalize the subject line. Personalization is not just about first name – you can personalize with the product left in shopping cart or a local venue where your event is taking place. This type of approach will increase your open rates. Last word on subject lines: test, test, test!

Follow thru on landing page

When creating an offer in your email copy, don’t abandon the user when they click through to take action. Many marketers make a statement in their email copy and then drop the user into a busy site where the user can’t associate or easily take advantage of the solo offer. It is always my recommendation to create a special landing page that has the same look and feel of the email so there is continuity – especially from interest to sale.

Jim Davidson, Manager of Marketing Research, Bronto Software

Cover the clicks
Here is a simple exercise you can do on a regular basis: Print your most recent emails, draw a line where the inbox fold would be and highlight every click opportunity. Make sure you’re providing sufficient opportunities for subscribers to click and that high priority links are above the fold. Next review calls-to-action. Are you repeating “buy now,” “click here,” or “learn more?” If so, try more enticing copy such as “Shop the new collection,” “Enter the Sweepstakes,” or make the actual product name clickable.

Promote your personality
Complement promotional messages with more personal communications such as automated birthday, anniversary, and reorder reminder emails. Share information about charitable or community contributions by your company and encourage customers to pitch in. These non-promotional tactics can keep your brand top-of-mind and drive long-term loyalty.

Evaluate engagement
Create segments based on engagement and develop programs to keep your best customers shopping and reactivate customers who have been ignoring you. You can focus in on the following areas:

-New subscribers
-Repeat Purchasers
-One-Time Purchasers
-Non-Purchasing Clickers
-Non-Clicking Openers
-Non-Openers at various intervals such as 30-60 days, 60-120 days, and 120+ days

Bill Kaplan, CEO, FreshAddress

Improving email response rates and maximizing email marketing revenues in the long run are the goals of almost every email marketer. In addition to the standard recommendations (e.g. use compelling subject lines, personalize your salutations, send relevant communications targeted to your customer segments, keep your emails short and sweet with one call-to-action as opposed to many), here are three other critical tips to help you win the game:

Keep your email list fresh
90+% of deliverability issues stem from hygiene problems with the underlying list. Use a real-time email address hygiene and correction service to keep problematic addresses from getting into your marketing database in the first place. Then, clean your list on a regular basis. Avoiding blocking and blacklisting issues is the #1 way to improve your email response rates.

Information is power
Email is not a one-size-fits-all marketing channel. Everybody’s customer file is different. Analyze your past campaigns (e.g. best subject lines, best times to send, best sending frequency, most compelling offers, targeted communications vs. broader communications), and leverage your data to the fullest.

Re-engage your inactives
These customers reached out to you in the past. Don’t neglect them. An estimated 30% of email addresses churn on an annual basis – that’s why the majority of your inactives are simply due to your sending emails to accounts your customers no longer read. First try a win-back program to see if you can bring these former customers back. For those that don’t respond, utilize an ECOA (Email Change of Address) service to reconnect you with guaranteed deliverable, preferred email addresses of your customers.

Daryl Logullo, ecommerce manager, Southern Fulfillment Services

Segment, segment and then… segment further
It’s one thing to mass blast offers and promotions to your list. But you’ll see entirely different — and higher results — when you segment your lists based on list behavior. As starting point, always segment based on conversion.

I recommend using three segments (a) Current Year buyers(CY), (b) Prior Year 12-24 month buyers (P1), and (c) Prior Year 24 month+ (P2). You can build much creater varieties of offers to your CY than your P1s and P2s.

And you can schedule more or less aggressive send schedule, based on each segment. For example, unless your open rates and conversion rates dictate, cut down sending P2s as frequently as your P1s.

For higher success, employ this equation: S + A/B = $
Segmenting plus A/B split testing equals higher revenue $. Now that you segment, A/B split test. For each send, design a control creative and a new iteration creative. Use the identical subject line for both to you test the creative.

Next, split the segment in half at random and send half version A (control) and the remainder version B (test). Study the results carefully. Choose the winner, and replace the control with the new winning creative. Play “beat the control” repeatedly each time to increase your convesion lifts.

Design correctly and always include mobile devices
It’s one thing to design your creatives for the email vendor or software patform that does your send. But what does your creative and call-to-action look like when rendered on a smartphone or tablet? Do you even know? You should. Today, most people only view a portion of your email message in a preview pane, whether it’s mobile or PC.

Offer a text version of your message, or use the built-in sniffers that most email providers have with MIME that will auto convert HTML into text. And don’t forget a link “View as Web Page” somewhere. This will force you to place a premium on your copy, and your subject lines, which is a good thing.

Loren McDonald, Vice President of Industry Relations, Silverpop

Increase usage of triggered emails
Adding more triggered messages to your email program generates a growing stream of revenue from emails that are close to “set and forget.” Start with improving your welcome email by moving to a series and that incorporates offers and helpful content. Then add birthday, purchase anniversary, bounceback, product review request, recommendation and other emails that are based on demographic or behavioral data.

These “low volume, high ROI” email programs often comprise from 25-40 percent or more of retailers revenue from email, while representing less than 5% of volume.

Send messages when recipients are most likely to be in their inbox
The fight to keep your brand—and messages—top of mind and at the top of your recipients’ inboxes is more difficult than ever. Delivering the right message at the right time sounds simple enough, but what is the answer to the age-old question of the best time to send an email?

Consider implementing a technology that analyzes recipient behavior on a rolling basis to predict the ideal message delivery time for each recipient on your list—it’s a way to deliver messages when a recipient is most likely to be in their inbox, keeping your brand and message top of mind.

Boost revenue with cart abandonment recovery emails
When a shopper abandons a cart, they are showing the intent to make a purchase—whether it’s a near-term buy or long-term wish list. To encourage these individuals to make a purchase, nurture them with a series of emails that launch shortly after abandonment and make it easy for them to complete their purchase.

Remember to be personal and only include incentives later in the series as you nudge them to buy. Keep in mind cart recovery emails are the highest revenue-generating messages for many retailers, oftentimes generating revenue per email of up to 100 times higher than broadcast messages.

Angel Morales, co-founder, Smarter Remarketer

Get the basics right
Test subject lines, time of send, message and offer. Ensure design is optimized for image suppression. Testing should also be done for rendering on various ISPs and devices. These are the cost-of-entry optimization techniques that every retailer must execute.

Acknowledge the conversation
Retailers need to listen to what customers are saying through their actions online and act on that knowledge. A visitor leaves a lot of information through their in-bound keywords, navigation paths and internal site search terms.

Use this knowledge for targeted messaging and merchandising. Include the visitor’s top engaged brand or category in the subject line such as “New UGG Australia Alert” or “The Latest Gifts for Her.” Doing so will routinely double open rates and increase conversions.

Dynamically merchandise the products in the email and display similar products such as new, top rated, top selling and sale. This approach, achieved by extending site search technology to make merchandising both automated and personalized, consistently results in conversion rates 4-8 times greater than “batch and blast” email.

Respect the experience
A lot of retailers have abandonment programs, but most are non-optimized. Understanding where visitors abandon (cart or check-out) and why they abandon is critical to determining who, how and what retailers should communicate.

Our Holiday 2011 research reports that more than 50% of check-out abandoners leave because of a payment method issue. Do you really want to send these customers back to the website into a broken process? What about the 17% that abandoned due to ship methods, or the 11% who interacted with promo codes?

Understanding the experience will allow retailers to tune offers, drip cadence and messages, and ultimately build the revenue-producing relationship retailers have with customers.

Benjamin Rothfeld, Director of Marketing Strategy, StrongMail

While the email channel benefits from the application of meticulously designed strategy and creativity, time- and resource-strapped merchants can also benefit from some quick-hit ideas. Here are three favorites:

Subject line testing
Consumers can’t respond to your emails, if they don’t open them first. Test subject lines continuously to understand what motivates your audience. Start by summarizing your key offer (“Take 20% off our best-selling widget”) and test different elements such as first-name personalization, number of offers mentioned, humor, long copy (over 50 characters), short copy (under 35 characters) and more.

Also consider reviewing previously used subject lines to find trends. Do certain product names pull better than others? Do words like “sale” or “discount” perk up response? Never stop testing.

Use the header wisely
With the prevalence of email preview panes and mobile devices, consumers may only see the top 50-100 pixels of your email. As a result, the header and pre-header of your email have an exaggerated importance. So, make sure that your key offer appears above the header in HTML text (as many as 50% of consumers have images turned off). These steps help ensure that as many consumers as possible see the offer.

Similarly, navigation links in the header (e.g. products, locations, etc.) can account for up to 20% of all clicks in an email. Consider using your website’s most active primary navigation links in the header of your email.

Design for scanning, not reading
Depending on who you ask, consumers spend three to five seconds looking at an email before deciding whether to read more or delete. As a result, retail email designers should plan on grabbing attention rather than providing education. Thus, emails should feature simple product shots that a consumer can grasp quickly (think basic tabletop shot versus a close-up detail).

Similarly, resist the temptation to include lots of copy. If consumers want to read more, they’ll click through. Rather, give just enough copy to explain the main benefit of the product, the price or whatever else gets the main idea across.

Of course, the more time you spend with email, the better results you will see. Try these tips above, and when they prove successful, you can more than make the argument for more time and resources.

Jay Schwedelson, President & CEO, Worldata

Preheader text is the very first piece of content within an email message. In the past, preheader text was used for a ‘view as a webpage’ or ‘having trouble viewing’ link. Marketers have come to understand the dramatic lift an email program can achieve by using this real estate for offer-related content. Emails that utilize the first line of preheader text for ‘offer’ related information generate a 19% higher ‘Open Rate’ than those that utilize this space for ‘Format Issue’ or ‘Add to Safe-Sender List’ information.

Other reasons to strongly consider paying greater attention to an emails’ preheader text are the display formats on many mobile devices cause the preheader text to play an even larger role in the overall message content. Many email clients such as Outlook 2007, Gmail, and the iPhone display preheader text after the subject line in the inbox.

Another hot topic is email timing. ‘When is the best time of day’ continues to be a question that marketers ask. One interesting test that has proven successful is leveraging the performance of other email marketers delivery timing. Acquisition emails delivered within a 1-hour time span of when Groupon and LivingSocial offers are delivered saw average open rates 14% higher than when they were delivered at any other time of the day. During this time frame, customers are accustomed to opening prospect offers and there is a better chance of getting these potential customers to open your message as well.

One last item to consider is that we shouldn’t forget some of the basics in email marketing. We are all so caught up in the social media revolution that we tend to forget about some tools that prove to be effective. ‘Forward to a Friend’ was a hot topic about 4-5 years ago and has drifted off. What is interesting for marketers to realize is that people are 2x’s more likely to ‘Forward to a Friend’ than to Tweet or post information from a promotional email.

Dana Shirlen, Email Marketing Manager, Adam and Eve

Automated triggered email campaigns
While promotional “batch and blast” email marketing campaigns may appear to be your highest revenue-generating email programs, it’s those smaller, behind-the-scenes, highly targeted emails that are helping to increase your response rates, your conversion rates and build the relationship your brand has with your consumer.

Triggered campaigns have gotten smarter. Companies, including ours, have seen huge success in creating automated, targeted campaigns that are built around browse activity, previous purchases and preferences based on wish lists. They attack low-hanging fruit, they allow you to utilize data you probably already have on hand regarding your own customers and they allow you to send highly targeted messaging, creative and offers to a group of interested recipients.

While the distribution lists on a daily basis may be small, the metrics will be high and overtime, you’ll see a huge return on the investment made up front for a campaign that will run by itself in the background. But remember; don’t let these campaigns go forgotten.

Remember to check their results quarterly against your benchmarks. Test offers, messaging, designs, products, and timing, characteristics used to trigger the emails, subject lines and more until you reach your sweet spot for each triggered campaign.

I may sound like a broken record, but segmentation is really key when it comes to increasing response rates. It’s like the old saying, “You can’t be everything to everyone”. And that’s true with business.

While, as marketers, you and I may think that 50% off is an amazing offer and if I send a half-off discount to everyone on my email list, I would expect to see a HUGE response rate and even bigger profits, the truth of the matter is that many consumers may be overwhelmed by the concept of taking 50% off any one single item at my website.

One of the challenges I’ve given my team this year is to introduce a “segmentation” day each week to their email marketing calendars this year. Find one offer each week that they could break down several different ways so that we’re not cutting our email distribution, but we’re sending the offer in the write style to the write person. We’ll be watching click through rates and conversion rates as key performance indicators for response. I challenge you to do the same to see how this could work for you.

Breaking up is hard to do
Much like in direct mail, email marketers hold onto their databases, their email lists like Gollum held onto his Precious. When I go to email conferences and get the chance to talk with other email marketers, one of the questions that always comes up is, “How big is your list?” and it’s always asked as though the bigger your list, the better. But what you’re looking for is quality, not always quantity.

So, one of the suggestions I put into practice in order to increase response rates with my own customers is limiting who we email by suppressing those customers that have made it more than clear that they just don’t want our emails anymore. This goes beyond automatically suppressing people who have opted out or marked us as spam, but there are those customers that are sometimes too lazy to take those measures to let you know that they don’t want your emails. These customers let you know by never opening and/or clicking through on your emails.

So, we’ve built filters that say to suppress people who haven’t opened or clicked through on our emails in a specified amount of time. What this does is remove those people that are bringing your open and click through rates down (and are not ordering from your emails either) and also protect you from potential spam traps – since they can be hiding out in your lists too, if you’re renting or purchasing lists.

So don’t feel bad when you actually stop emailing people…remember, you only want to email people that want to be emailed, because it’s those people that will ultimately help increase your response rates.

Chad White, Research Director, Responsys

Email volume is on the rise. Among top retailers, the number of emails sent to each subscriber is on track to increase nearly 30% this year. In the face of these increases, maintain your email response rates by performing these 3 key actions:

Implement a testing program
Testing is the hallmark of a great email marketing program. I’m not sure how you can be responsive and relevant to subscribers without it. And if you’re not testing, then you’re leaving lots of money on the table.

Not convinced? Check out, which shares case studies of A/B tests that routinely generate lift of 20%, 40% or more from small changes to copy, text or image size, button color and other elements.

Create tablet-friendly designs
For many brands, more than 20% of their emails are now being read on smartphones and tablets—and for some it’s in excess of 40%. Because email engagement is typically multifold higher on tablets than on smartphones, focus on making your emails tablet-friendly first by using larger headlines and deck copy, and then making calls-to-action easily tappable by avoiding image, button and link crowding. Once you’ve mastered that, you can move on to making smartphone-friendly changes.

Set up triggered emails
Welcome, browse-based, back-in-stock, anniversary, birthday and other emails that are sent in response to subscriber actions produce outsized results because they reach subscribers at the right time with the right message.

For instance, one of our retail customers that implemented an abandoned cart triggered email program has netted a more than 2,000% return on investment in less than a year. Triggered programs take extra time and resources to set up, but investments are generally recouped in months or even weeks.

Jaimey Wilman, Director of Marketing, Action Bag

Relevant personalization
Take personalization to the next level by using your customer data to create relevant emails. Use transaction and custom info such as previous purchases, life style characteristics, geographic location, business type – the possibilities are endless!

Create customer segments from this data and use this to influence the email imagery, the featured products, and the message theme. This tactic delivers a more meaningful message that can break through the email clutter.

By providing more value to your reader encourages reading future messages and increases response.

Behavior based
Triggered emails are messages generated based on the customer behavior. Abandoned cart, welcome messages, order confirmation, and catalog request emails are powerful contacts to drive engagement and conversion.

Upgrade your triggered messages by creating triggered series campaigns sending multiple messages over a determined period of time. An example is sending 3 abandoned cart messages. Send a message at 24 hrs, 2 days, 5 days after the visitor abandoned. Start off a as a friendly reminder and offer assistance in completing the order, the next message could alert them their cart would be cleared if they don’t order by a certain time limit, the last message can say their cart will be clear today but provided an offer to help close the sale.

Triggered messages are proven messages to drive more engagement and sales since you already have the subscriber interacting. Remember to test the right email tolerance for your subscribers.

Strong call to action
A sometimes forgotten piece of email design is to compel your recipient to do something. “Click Here – Sign Up – Buy Now – Shop Today” – add this powerful copy to body text, subject lines, and images to create a sense of urgency. Take the guess work out of what the recipient is suppose to do. Making the desired action easy drives more click-throughs and better response rates.

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