As Internet marketers we all know how important it is to have a successful newsletter to help us keep in touch with our customers. But it can be pretty frustrating to spend all those hours developing content and campaigns only to have the program flop. Open rates can dive into the single-digits and click-through rates can fall to mere fractions of a percent.
So if this happens, what do you do?
First of all, don’t panic. Usually, if you spend a few minutes looking at your data you can identify the problems pretty easily.
Determine Which Problem to Fix
Take a look at where your leads are coming from. If you are purchasing lists from other websites or publishers, make sure you segregate each source in your reporting so you can measure the quality of each list. You want to make sure you have a way of determining the quality of a list source before you merge the purchased group into your master list.
Also, if it has been around for a while, try segregating your opt-in list into three groups by age:
* Under 6 months
* 6 months to 1 year
* Over 1 year
It is normal for open and click through rates to be highest for the « Under 6 Month » category, and lowest for those who have been on your list for over a year. However, there should not be a significant drop off as people move from one category to the next.
Look for anomalies in the data. Here are a few things I look for when I’m troubleshooting a client’s campaign:
* Is there a significant drop-off behind the first mailing? If the first mailing that a recipient gets typically achieves a 35% open rate, but the second has a 7% open rate, then the problem is not with the list source, or the header information (subject line, « From » address, etc.) it is with the content of the newsletter itself. If the drop off is 35% to 29%, then one might consider that to be normal.
* Has there been a change in frequency? We all get busy, and one of the first activities that can get forgotten is the newsletter. Unfortunately, absence in the Email marketing realm does NOT make the heart grow fonder. In fact, a prolonged period of non-communication is one of the leading causes of opt-outs.
* Are your articles relevant to the demographic? It is a good idea to survey your house list periodically to test your assumptions about their levels of expertise and interest in different subjects.
Wake Up Your Sleepy Optin List
Look at how you approach the people who have subscribed to your list. Remember that with email newsletters the permission your subscribers have given you to send email to them is not permanent; they can opt out at any time if they lose confidence or interest in your newsletter.
More often than not, however, people don’t actually opt-out. They simply stop opening and reading your email. I call these « sleepy » subscribers. They are getting your messages, but since they are « asleep » they can’t read them. Although there’s no way to know for sure, I would guess that your « sleep » rate is probably about 4 to 5 times the size of your opt-out rate. So your opt-out rate is an indicator of your « sleep » rate.
It is vital to understand what your subscribers think of your publication. Again, surveys are a great way to get feedback on your program. You can also provide an open link on each newsletter that asks for general feedback. Very few people will take the time to provide feedback on a feedback form, but you can bet that those who do represent a large chunk of your audience. Take their feedback seriously, and learn from it.
Five Steps to Improve Your Performance
Following are five steps that have always lifted the performance of my campaigns.
* Get in touch immediately from the moment someone signs up for your newsletter, they start to forget you. If you take three weeks to send something to them, then they won’t remember signing up and they will reject your email as spam. Make sure they get an issue of your newsletter (or an ebook, or a free report; something that is relevant to them and has value) immediately after they sign up.
* Make it personal and entertaining: Email marketing is a one-to-one communication, it is almost always best to keep the tone personal and entertaining. Try telling a few stories about yourself or your company. Let people get to « know » you, and feel like an « insider » with your company. This increases their personal equity in your brand.
* Make all emails « high-value »: Every time you send an email it should be valuable to the recipient, not just to you. Straight sales letters with no « meat » can dampen open rates for future mailings. Train your recipients to view each email you send as a valuable piece of information they cannot afford to miss.
* Test multiple article types: You can write all kinds of articles, and depending on your industry and demographics of your subscribers, they may prefer instructional and how-to articles; others may prefer current industry events, or breaking news. Test these out and see what works best.
* Test different formats: Try splitting your list and send half your recipients an HTML newsletter and the other half a « text-looking » email. Make sure that the « text-looking » email really does have HTML in it, or else you won’t be able to track the open rates!
Keep Your Chin UP
All newsletters can experience a blow to their response rates. If this happens to you, it is important to identify the problems and fix them before you lose too much of your list to opt-outs and list fatigue. Variety is the spice of life, and it can « wake up » a sleepy list by injecting some excitement. Make sure each communication you send is high value, and provides something new. And keep the lines of communication open so your subscribers can help you improve the quality of your content.