The problem with so-called best practices in email is that things
are still changing rapidly enough that yesterday's best practice
may not be today's. Plus, you can always (always, always,
always) find a way to get better results.
I called up Karen Iannone, Smarter Living's email marketer who I like to think of as "Email Test Queen." Karen is responsible for sending out more than 10 million emails per month, and she's constantly learning from her mailings.
I asked her what she is testing these days that she hopes
will make a difference for 2003 results.
Test Idea #1 Text vs. HTML
Yes, it is worth testing again. Many marketers are seeing less of
a lift from HTML than they used to in the old days.
Karen says when it comes viral campaigns that you hope AOL users
will forward to friends you really should test text-only. That's
because some, if not all, AOL versions strip HTML from the
forwarded message. (This is also true for Hotmail.)
Yes you can send an HTML version if people click on your official
"forward to a friend" button. We all know the reality is
most people use their email program to forward, not your button.
"Users that receive forwards are great customers," notes Karen.
"If I forward you a note, you'll respond at a 200% higher rate
than my regular subscriber base. The quality of leads generated
Smarter Living is also investing in building an application for
their readers that will let subscribers switch from HTML to text-
only or back again at will. "It's a preference thing," notes
Test Idea #2 Track Responses Based on Name Source Offer
Karen is very wary of building a house list using sweeps,
giveaways and other super-soft compelling offers, because if
people join your list because of an incentive offer, are these
names really qualified buyers?
She is tracking responses to her house list campaigns by
whether the responder first joined the list due to an incentive
campaign, or a pay-per-lead program, or not.
It is worth noting that in the offline world magazine marketers
who have built their lists using sweeps offers often find they
have to send another sweeps to get those particular subscribers
to buy again. Sweeps responders are very different from the rest
of the file.
Test Idea #3 Frequency of Mailings
"I worry about email frequency all the time," Karen says.
Smarter Living only emails its list every two weeks which some
mailers would consider not remotely aggressive. However, Karen
thinks there is a chance it might be too much.
"We're starting to think hard about this. What if we're hitting
them with too much email? Even if they ask for it, down the road
it may come back to hurt us. Is there a higher risk of them
becoming indifferent to our email?"
Karen plans to carefully watch response rates based on the age of
the name on her file. She may also pull out a group of names to
test varying frequencies with.
Test Idea #4 Short vs. Long Copy
"It's a key question. How much data do you put in the email
versus how much do you encourage them to click through? Are you
asking us to tell you all of the content or maybe just the top 20
fares and then click to see the rest of the list on our site?"
Test Idea #5 Forms Inside Email
Karen is actually wary of this tactic that other marketers are
embracing. It can work incredibly well because people do not have
to click through to respond. She warns, "If it's not
accepted by 85-90% of email clients, it's not worth it. Keeping
it simple works better."
"We tested a form in a recent email to our house list. You could
donate to a Boston-area charity project. It did not work in
Hotmail or Outlook XP." Ouch.
That is why you will not find fancy rich media or Flash-based ads on
Karen's must-test list quite yet.
Test Idea #6 Improving Double Opt-In Conversions
Smarter Living is now a double confirm list (people have to sign
up and then confirm they meant to) in part to stop the Klez worm
from subscribing unwilling people (see Alexis' column below for
more on that).
Obviously the key is making sure as many people as possible who
want to be added to the list actually confirm. With email
overload it can be a real problem because recipients may overlook
the confirm message.
Karen's already tested text versus HTML confirm messages, "Text-
only was running an average of 62% and converting to HTML with
the exact same copy saw a 10% lift, so we're now in the 70%
range." Next she plans to test tweaking copy and graphics.
Test Idea #7 Newsletter Layout
Prompted by the concern that AOL and Outlook users might not be
seeing her entire newsletter (AOL users have a smaller-than-
average default window to view mail; Outlook users tend to read
entire messages in their Preview panel without opening all the
way) Karen has been testing layout to beat tiny windows.
She recommends that other marketers with newsletters test where
links and navigation bars appear: Left, right or center.
That may also affect your ads being placed in 3rd party