Improving email response rates has been a common goal amongst clients of mine for as long as I’ve worked in marketing. Email marketing has been a mainstay of client marketing campaigns, so refining and improving open rate and click-through rate (CTR) is understandably high on the agenda.

In recent years, open rates have become less indicative of email performance – many email clients are set to either default-hide or default-display images (which is the trigger to record an ‘open’ of an email). This lack of clarity around genuine ‘human’ open rates has thankfully been balanced by improvements in end-to-end tracking of email performance through integration of Google Analytics or marketing automation systems.

Typically email campaigns are now all about delivering a high click through rate (CTR) and low unsubscribe rate. I’ve always viewed emails as a method of catching attention of the target audience and whisking them away to a landing page – away from the distraction of emails above and below in their inbox. Given this view of emails, CTR is a great first-order performance metric. I’d always suggest marrying this up with a hard metric such as conversion rate from the landing page (as a result of email traffic) – providing a route to demonstrate ROI and true business value from any email campaign.

Anyway, that’s background… here’s what you’re probably more interested in:

How to improve email click through rate (CTR)

The first thing to ensure is that your message demonstrates clear value to the customer – is it matched to their needs at that time (e.g. stage in buying cycle) and role as a buyer/customer/advocate? Was the email sent as a result of some action taken by the recipient triggering this – if so, is this mentioned explicitly?

Next is the call to action (CTA), there should be several instances of this. In lead generation emails, ideally keep the CTA to one or two options but make sure they’re signposted as text links, links from images and a button or two (buttons should always be ‘bulletproof design’). Placement of the CTA is crucial too. Always have this in the top-right 300 pixels if possible for immediate impact, and ensure the email ends with a clear CTA too.

General design and layout is hugely important when constructing emails. More than 65% of emails are read on mobile devices*, so ensure your emails are optimised for mobile – simple and easy to read. It’s also incredibly important that the landing page is also optimised for mobile – or you’ll waste good email traffic that bounces (61%**) when hitting a desktop landing page.

And finally, don’t waffle on in an email. I’ve seen some emails looking like PDF datasheets… they don’t work! Remember an email just needs to say enough to encourage the recipient to click through to the landing page. However, this doesn’t mean light and fluffy; the email copy must convey value. Just keep the message succinct, provide enough proof that you understand the needs of your target audience and will provide them value if they click through to the landing page.

How long should a subject line be?

The answer is actually longer than you’d expect (yes, more than 30 characters PLEASE)! Too many emails are sent with almost meaninglessly short subject lines… leading to recipients ignoring potentially relevant content. Make your subject line CLEAR and tell recipients exactly what VALUE you are delivering in the email. There’s no harm in being creative with the copy to instil a little urgency (when relevant), but don’t cut back on explaining why you’ve sent them the email.

It’s also worth remembering the pre-header section of the email (often displayed after the subject line in mobile email clients). This is another great opportunity to extend the explanation from the subject line.

Here’s an interesting infographic from Litmus on the topic of subject lines.  However, the evidence for the recommended 28 – 39 character length isn’t overwhelming.  Keeping below 50 characters makes sense for readability, but the most important points are clarity and value (as mentioned above).

Reducing unsubscribe rates

The fear of losing valuable email subscribers through unsubscribes haunts all email marketers. Minimise this through a tiered ‘manage your preferences’ screen. Most unsubscribes occur out of frustration – so give your audience control of their preferences and they’ll tell you what they do and don’t want to hear from you and how often. If you listen, they’re far more likely to respond to future emails.

How can I achieve affordable email marketing?

The most important thing is that you develop your email marketing in accordance with the recommendations above, as well as other best-practice recommendations appropriate for your audience. If you send more than the occasional marketing email it’s worth considering having email templates developed for you to ensure these rules are adhered to. I’m always happy to discuss what’s best for you and help you achieve affordable email marketing.

*More than 65% of all email gets opened first on a mobile device (Source: VentureBeat.com 2014)

**61% of users are unlikely to return to a mobile site that they had trouble accessing from their phone, and 40% go to a competitor’s. (Source: CampaignMonitor 2013)