Never Stop Improving: 5 Ways to Optimize Email Marketing

EmailWhat does it mean to ‘optimize’ something? In one sense, optimization is the third phase in the natural evolution of any business idea. If you envision a linear progression, successful companies tend first to revolutionize an industry or product by disrupting the same old, same old. Apple is the quintessential example of a company that revolutionized technology. Moving along the continuum, companies next innovate on their own ideas (think iPad to iPad Mini to iPad Air). Eventually, companies seek to optimize products and processes to generate the most possible value out of their creations.

Having existed quite literally since the dawn of the Internet, conventional email marketing is in this latter-most stage, optimization. The smartest companies today are optimizing the performance of both individual campaigns and programs to boost performance and reduce costs. Here are five key areas where progressive marketers are leading the way by applying email optimization to deliver stronger results.

List Segmentation
An email marketing program is only as good as its list. This is because so much hinges upon the size, data quality (cleanliness or list hygiene), and depth of customer information found in a list. Increasingly marketers think of their customer databases as groups of distinct segments with unique preferences and behaviors. From acquisition strategies that incorporate brick-and-mortar sign-ups to advanced list hygiene measures that separate and reactivate unengaged customers, and even find and remove spam traps, knowing your list’s composition like the back of your hand -or better- is the first step toward optimizing your email marketing performance.

Optimize your list today by creating sublists by categories such as most valuable customers, unengaged subscribers, and subscribers who joined the list in the last 30/60/90 days.

Customized Messaging
Segmenting your list allows you to more specifically target customers with the right message. You wouldn’t want to send the same email to both unengaged subscribers and highly valuable customers. Once segments are created, tailor your messages so that customers feel a more personal connection with your company or brand.

Optimize your messaging today by incorporating dynamic field population. This can be as simple as adding some basic perl script to your messages to populate first names from your list. After all, would you rather receive an email that says ‘Dear Valued Customer’ or ‘Hey Alex!’ (presuming your name is Alex, of course). Or in a more complex example, send free ship-to-store offers to those customers who signed up at a point-of-sale.

This is a tricky one. Last year 17 percent of messages from permissioned email marketers never reached subscribers’ inboxes. Mailbox Providers like Comcast and Yahoo are necessarily secretive about the algorithms used to filter mail as they protect their users from spam. Marketers that rely on basic email sending metrics may not even know when their messages are routed to the spam folder, but it happens frequently and it represents waste and unfulfilled potential.

Optimize your deliverability today by applying for email certification and whitelisting your sending IPs. Mailbox providers and filtering specialists use whitelists to identify senders known to follow industry best practices and consumer-friendly policies, and they provide inbox placement benefits to help these senders’ messages reach the inboxes of subscribers that want them.

Send Time Optimization
Here’s a relative newcomer to the world of email. Consider your own email habits. Maybe you wake up every morning at 5:30, grab your phone, and check your email. You spend about 30 minutes sifting through work and personal emails before finally getting out of bed at 6:00. It’s probably the best time to reach you by email. Companies are getting much better at tracking that activity and using it to send more targeted emails. That means instead of sending you mail in a batch-and-blast at 3:00 PM, you’ll get a personally tailored message in your inbox at 5:25 AM, when you want it.

Optimize your timing today by diving into the data and segmenting your list by time of day and day of week. Give your customers the mail they want, exactly when they want it.

Analytic Focus
Last but certainly not least is analytics. Email marketing is rife with data. Most ESP platforms will show you opens and clicks; there are dozens of point solutions that allow you to drop code into the links in your messages, which can track customer activity. You can even tell what type of device opened the message and what version of software the customer was using at the time. The vast amount of email data has been known to cause everything from mild shock to total analysis paralysis. Take a step back and strategize.

Optimize your analytics today by considering what you are trying to accomplish with your email marketing program as well as with each individual campaign. Are you trying to increase readership, reduce complaints, encourage pass-along, or drive more action? Subscriber engagement metrics will show you how many people read, ignore, forward, and even rescue your messages from the spam folder. Are you trying to increase revenue or track attribution? It might be a good idea to invest in software that allows you to track open-to-basket metrics.

Optimize for Success
Apple might be in the optimization stage with many of its products, but that hasn’t stopped the company from continually working to develop and improve them. As you work toward optimizing your email marketing, follow their lead and don’t leave anything unquestioned or untested. Set yourself apart by seeking ways to reimagine some of the same old things. Is your messaging stale? Have opens and clicks stagnated? Use any combination (or all five) of the areas discussed to develop a program that shows your customers how much you value them and how you truly think different.

Kevin Kelleher leads marketing for Return Path Consumer Insight line of business. He helps people see how data can be used to make smarter decisions. In his spare time, Kevin enjoys running, reading and fencing.