AOL's 35,000,000 email users' preferences and habits have always
been a moving target, especially since newer versions allow for
HTML email and broadband connections.
When I heard a new survey of AOL users was conducted less
than a month ago by Lucid Marketing and DM Buyers, I immediately
asked them to let me reveal the results to you. Here is the new
data plus my quick analysis of how it might apply to your
a. Getting your email opened vs. deleted
b. Text vs. HTML and other AOL user preferences
c. Email usage data: Broadband and work vs. home
d. What multiple email account users mean to you
e. Notes: How the research was conducted
-> a. Getting your email opened vs. deleted
97% of AOL users surveyed admitted they delete mail from people
or companies they do not know. Specific results:
45.9% "always delete it"
51.1% sometimes delete it
1.7% "report it as spam"
1.3% "always open it"
Yup, only 1.3% of users are opening every email regardless of
where it comes from. The rest are screening like crazy, and they
rely on the "from" address more than you may have thought.
This means putting a recognized brand or personal name in your
"from" is mission-critical, and you should probably rewrite your
"subject" lines to reference that name as well so it is harder to
-> b. Text vs. HTML and other AOL user preferences
I have heard a lot of anecdotal evidence from email list owners to
indicate that even though most people can get HTML email, many
do not *like* to get it. Text vs. HTML is not about "can they see
it?" it is about "how do recipients' personal preferences affect
their response to my message?"
These survey results absolutely bear that anecdotal evidence out.
Although 85% of respondents were using AOL v.7 or 8 which allow
HTML email, when asked, "Do you have a format preference for
receiving AOL email?" 53% of respondents said they prefer plain
In fact, 6% said they never open messages with images, and 84%
said they only "sometimes" did.
The survey also asked what types of messages AOL users prefer to
receive. The choices were:
- content customized,
- no scrolling required, and
- message loads fast.
"Message loads fast" won by a landslide. 62% of respondents
said it was a far higher priority for them than the other
options. More than 50% of AOL-users still rely 100% on dial-up
connections, so this is another indicator that if you do send
HTML, keep message-size as light as possible.
(Interestingly 'custom content' and 'no scrolling' got virtually
identical results, indicating short copy may be as sexy as
-> c. Email usage data: Broadband and work vs. home
29% of survey respondents said they always access their AOL email
via a broadband connection such as cable modem, DSL or a high-
speed line at their office.
This is great news for marketers who want to test entertaining
tactics such as streamed e-commercials and other rich media on
their campaign landing pages, if not in the email itself.
However, 58% or respondents only use dial-up connections still,
and 90% access AOL email primarily from home. If rich media
is key to your success, definitely ask names about their
connection speed when they join your list.
Unlike the rumors we have heard about Yahoo and Hotmail email
accounts, AOL-email is far less likely to pile up for long
periods of time. 86% of respondents check their email at least
This means AOL accounts are less likely to "go bad" or be
cluttered with massive amounts of older mail than no-cost email
-> d. What multiple email account users mean to you
31% of respondents share their AOL email account with at least
one other person.
I consider this a significant statistic for marketers. Often,
your message is reaching a household with multiple members,
instead of a unique individual.
(Note: Yes, AOL allows each account to have multiple email
addresses. That does not mean people use them. Many times
consumers simply set up one family box and leave it at
that. Which is why your list may include addresses such
as AnneandPete@ or HollandFamily@.)
This multiple-user stat means just as with postal mail, your
campaign may be sorted (and deleted) by someone other than the
person it was intended for. I suspect women may be the family
"gatekeepers" in many cases, simply because so many studies in
the past have indicated women are more enthusiastic and frequent
users of email accounts than men are.
Therefore, your message to men or children may be screened by
their girlfriends, wives and mothers.
This also accounts for increased spam complaints. One member of
a family may join a list and not tell anyone else. (I will bet it
happens a lot.) Then whoever is sorting email the next time that
mailer sends a message may think they have been spammed.
If you do collect a personal name along with an email
address, you may want to note that in your message subject line
and/or body so it is very clear who the message is for and that
it is permission-based.
-> e. Research notes: How the survey was conducted
My first question whenever I see survey data is to ask, "How many
people responded?" because often studies are based on dismayingly
tiny pools of results. In this case, there were enough
respondents to be statistically significant (otherwise I would not
have reported on it).
The folks at Lucid Marketing and DM Buyers rented a list of
500,000 AOL-email users who had signed up at MyMailCall.com, a
permission-based offers service for consumers. The survey was
sent in to the list in two chunks. Part of the list got it Jan
22nd, and part got it on Jan 27th 2003.
2,926 AOL-email users responded, which Lucid's Kevin Burke says
is about what you would expect for a campaign like this from a non-
famous brand name to a rented file that was not just new users
only. (Newer names always respond better.)
Final demographics matched AOL's user base as reported in March
2002 almost exactly in terms of male/female (42%/58%) and percent
married (60%.) However, there was one big difference: 54% of
respondents were 45 or older, while AOL's number is 43% in that
Does this mean AOL's demographics have shifted to older people
since March 2002? Perhaps, but we can not be sure. Does this
affect the data and conclusions I reported above? Perhaps a
little. You will need to be the judge.
Here is a link to the AOL demographics:
Here are links to the companies that ran this survey: