October 23, 2012
How To

Email Marketing How-to: Overcome 3 common errors to increase clickthrough

SUMMARY: Email is the most effective strategy used by marketers, but some errors are all too common and could be dragging down your clickthrough rates.

A recent MarketingSherpa webinar sponsored by Lyris, "How Overcoming 3 Common Errors Increased Clickthrough Rate by 104%," lays out actionable ideas for correcting common mistakes and increasing email clickthrough rates.
by Courtney Eckerle, Reporter, MECLABS

Subject lines are overwhelmingly the most tested email element, with 72% of marketers testing them, according to MarketingSherpa’s 2012 Email Marketing Benchmark Report. However, only 35% found it to be an effective element to test. A disparity between testing and effectiveness is not uncommon, and Jon Powell, Senior Manager of Research and Strategy, MECLABS, asks, "Is that because subject line testing isn’t effective, or are there better ways to do it?"

In a recent MarketingSherpa webinar, which can be viewed in full below, Powell and Daniel Burstein, Director of Editorial Content, MECLABS, identified some of the better ways to create and test your email marketing, without the errors that could be holding your clickthrough rates down. This webinar was broadcast for free thanks to a sponsorship by Lyris.

Error #1: Macro distortion

"The funnel" model is broken, according to Powell. "It simply states, ‘hey, if we just stay out of the way … just plug the holes, they’re just going to fall right into our carts, right into the call-to-action. … All we have to do is stay out of the way, keep them moving in the right direction, and everything is going to work out.'"

This method doesn’t stand up to testing, and Powell believes it leaves much out of the equation -- for example, it assumes a trust between company and consumer that simply isn’t there anymore.

"The funny thing is when you take all of these things and put them together -- the exaggerated benefits, the empty promises, the artful disclaimers -- what you’ve got is gravity. People aren’t falling into your funnel, they’re climbing up it. What are they climbing against? Their own skepticism," he concluded.

A system of cynicism revolves around email in general, and "to the prospect you’re trying to reach, it is not one step and done. It’s multiple steps."
  • Is the email worth opening?

  • Is it worth reading more than a few seconds?

  • Is this email worth looking at any deeper?

  • Is this email worth clicking on?

These factors are decided in the customers mind by a few elements that make up the macro conversion process:
  • Subject line: Is it interesting enough to open?

  • Headline: Is it what I expected to see?

  • First paragraph: Is it interesting, do they have my attention?

  • Body: Is it relevant, is it worth acting on, is the commitment too high, and is it something that would involve a lot of work?

Getting customers through these steps and onto the landing page is good, said Powell, but not the end of the road.

"The customer thinks in micro-steps. They think of a process like a conversation. They’re thinking at every intersection, ‘What is the value for me to continue?’"

Landing page

On the landing page, it is important to reinforce the conversation from the email in the first two sentences. It is what drove the customer there from the email, and s what they are immediately looking for on the page.

The customers make at least ten micro-decisions, so they are aware of what to expect upon moving from the email to the landing page, according to Powell.

"You are not just sending them an email, you are starting a conversation, and the conversation happens in parts."

Powell draws the comparison between your landing page and speaking to a stranger at a party. "If you don’t pick a topic that interests them, are they going to continue to listen to you? You’ve got to keep them from going back to the punch bowl … the moment that relevance is lost, they’re gone. Same thing with your emails, same thing with your landing pages."

The aesthetic tones moving from email to landing page are important, Powell adds, but not everything should be the same. The customer is moving on to learn more information, and content should reflect that.

"Look and feel in terms of color, tones -- that continuity is important. In content, it is different. If your email looks like your landing page, you might be conflated."

ERROR #2: Conflated objectives

"When you think of conflation, I want you to think of those free coupon circulars you get in the mail," Burstein said. "There are so many different offers and calls-to-action screaming for your attention, sometimes in just one ad, that you don’t know what you’re supposed to do. So you tend to just throw it down and not do anything."

Burstein refers to this as "the tyranny of white space," and likens it to being in Times Square or on the Las Vegas strip, with so much competing for your attention that you just don’t know what to do. He attributes it to the feeling that "[marketers] are paying for that entire media space, so they’re going to fill it with something."

Multiple calls-to-action is an all too common manifestation of this mistake in email, said Powell.

"Instead of conversation with a prospect or a customer, you’re simply throwing as many different opportunities to click and to act because you don’t trust that your conversation is going to have meaning enough to drive them to the next step. What ends up happening is they are more confused than … if you had just given them one option and one conversation."

Powell advises checking emails for the following signs of conflation:
  • It says exactly what’s on the landing page

  • It takes more than 30 seconds to read from beginning to end

  • Looks and feels just like a webpage

  • Looks and feels like a magazine

  • It has more than one central call-to-action

To cut down on conflation, Powell recommends establishing value early, clearly showing why an action would be of value to the customer. Along with only one clear call-to-action, guide the reader through a logical series of micro-conversions.

Error #3. Assumed value

The value exchange fulcrum

At each micro-conversion in the email journey, there is a value exchange. For each micro-conversion, marketers must calculate and deliver the needed perceived value for the prospect to move to the next micro-conversion.

It should be constantly evaluated if the perceived value is much larger than the perceived cost. The value for the customer’s time must outweigh the cost in order for any clickthrough or conversion to take place.

"For every step of the process, you have to earn your way into action. You can’t just assume because you have an email, because you’re launching a product, because you have a newsletter that it’s worth looking at. You have to earn it in the mind of the customer," Powell said.

The value proposition spectrum

"There are going to be prospect groups that like you for different reasons. That is why you pay close attention to your list," Powell said , adding that what is relevant for one list may not be relevant for another.

"It is up to you to take a closer look at that list -- where they’ve come from, what they’ve experienced, what they haven’t experienced, what they read, what they haven’t read, all the information you can get to understand which of your products is of the most value to them," Powell said.

It is not just about the product, he added, but how you are going to show prospects those products and the process you will take them on to understand the value.

"We’re not just marketers, we’re teachers. We are trying to help customers and prospects understand the value we can bring to their lives … and it’s a step-by-step process.

Powell says that marketers have to find the thing they need or they want, and it has to be represented throughout every step of the process. Every micro-conversion should "bleed" the needs or wants of the prospect.

"What it really comes down to is communication of value … What we’re trying to do is communicate value to our customers, and we want to do it in a believable way, and we want to do it in a true way," Burstein concluded.

Watch the Replay

For more information, watch the full replay of "How Overcoming 3 Common Errors Increased Clickthrough Rate by 104%" below:

You can also view and download the slides via SlideShare.

Related Resources

Download the free excerpt of the 2012 Email Marketing Benchmark Report

Lyris -- Digital marketing automation platform

Email Optimization and Testing: 800,000 emails sent, 1 major lesson learned

Email Optimization: 72% of marketers test subject lines (via MarketingExperiments)

Email Research: The 5 best email variables to test

What’s the Frequency, Kenneth? How Often Should We Send Email? (via Lyris)

Email Marketing How-to: 5 steps to improve your email newsletter

Case Study: Creativity vs. clarity in email subject lines

Email Marketing: 17.36% higher average clickthrough rate in 7 personalized subject line tests

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