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Converting Opens to Clicks: How 3 simple email changes led to a 27% increase in clickthrough rates

Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014
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Email Optimization

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"Your emails and website provide the common sense that we often leave at the door to the office."

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Home arrow Email Optimization arrow Email Marketing Tested
Email Marketing Tested
Thursday, 12 April 2007
Synopsis

We examine research findings to discover what factors determine the efficacy of online marketing email copy.

Topic: Email Marketing Tested — What Makes Email Marketing Copy Effective (or Ineffective)? Part 1 of 2

EDITOR'S NOTE: The live clinic where this research was presented included practical application of the essential principles in the form of live optimization of several emails submitted by participants specifically for the clinic by Dr. McGlaughlin and the Marketing Experiments Team. You can listen to a recording of the clinic by using either of the links below. 

Email Marketing Optimized

Email has become an extremely powerful marketing tool. In fact, U.S. firms spent more than $400 million in 2006.

Our research has identified 6 distinct factors of email marketing campaign effectiveness. Not surprisingly, body copy is among the factors with the greatest impact (highest coefficient).

In this brief, we share the findings of our research on email copy effectiveness and show you how to write an effective email offer.

Findings

Before the age of electronic marketing, direct advertising was exceedingly expensive and time consuming. The dollar cost of a single direct mail campaign could range in the millions, and conclusive results took weeks. By contrast, the dollar cost of an email marketing campaign of the same size may be measured in the hundreds or less, and useful data begin to arrive within hours—with conclusive results within days. Consequently, we have the ability to discover what works and what doesn't at a rate and level never before possible.

CASE STUDY ONE — PROMOTIONAL MAILING

Test Design

We ran a split test sending out two versions of an email to Marketing Experiments subscribers. We designed one email with good copy, the other with comparatively bad copy.

See if you can distinguish the two based on the first few lines

Email A

Subject line: Marketing Experiments Update
-----------------------------------------------------------
***************************

Learn how to maximize your Google Adwords, Yahoo Search Marketing, and MSN AdCenter PPC Campaigns from the Experts at Marketing Experiments

***************************

In addition to learning our PPC best practices you will also become certified as an MEC Paid Search Management Expert (SEM)

Dear Marketing Experiments Subscriber,

We want to help you learn more effective ways to build, manage, and maximize the ROI from your PPC campaigns.

Email B

Profit from becoming a Certified
Paid Search Management Professional

REGISTER NOW...
Before all the places are taken.

*************************************

Dear Marketing Experiments Subscriber,

Our next Paid Search Management certification course starts tomorrow, February 1st, 2007.

:: You MUST register for the course before the start date. We cannot accept registrations once the course has started.

In addition, there are now only a few places remaining before we reach capacity for the class.

>> This course has been filling up fast for one simple reason:

The world of Paid Search is becoming increasingly competitive, and only those with in-depth expertise can hope to continue delivering a strong, positive ROI.

The MEC Paid Search Management certification course delivers more detail than any other course available. The strategies and proprietary search management formulae are simply not available anywhere else.

Be careful, intuition is not always reliable.

We had speculated which would perform better, but we remained acutely aware of these three fundamental principles:

  • 1.Marketing IS testing.
  • 2.So do not speculate; test.
  • 3.But it is better to speculate, than to conduct an invalid test.

Results

We found the following:

TEST: Good vs. Bad Copy
Email CTR (%)
Email A 2.93%
Email B 1.96%
% Difference 49.5%

Check boxWhat you need to understand: Email A yielded a 49.5% higher click-through rate than Email B.

“Why?” you might well ask. The differences included familiarity, tone, trust, order of presentation, and other essential factors that we will explore in detail in this two-part series on email copy effectiveness.

As we look closely, we find that Treatment A begins with a greeting using Marketing Experiments’ name, while Treatment B begins with the word “Profit.”

The primary difference in approach is the primacy of an appeal to trust through familiarity vs. that of the potential for monetary gain. Familiarity is an essential factor in establishing and maintaining trust.

This test indicates that the impact of familiarity in engaging initial attention and interest outweighed that of an appeal to monetary gain. 

Other factors include tone and clarity, which are affected by both word choice and order of copy. As far back as Aristotle, great communicators have observed that in persuading others, “felt” knowledge, through intuition and emotion, is as powerful in decision making as intellectual, reasoned knowledge. In the next case study, we explore the impact of order of copy presentation on click-through.

CASE STUDY — CLINIC INVITATIONS

Our Invitation to the Web clinic associated with this brief provides further evidence of the impact of order of presentation.

Test Design

We conducted a split test using two versions of the email invitation to this clinic.

Half received an email with the familiar Web clinic invitation at the top, followed by the offer to participate. The other half received an email with the offer at the top, followed by the familiar Web clinic invitation copy.

Email A Invitation to the Clinic

Topic: Email Marketing Tested: What Makes Email Marketing Copy Effective
(or Ineffective).

Join our no-charge teleconference call NEXT Wednesday, March 28
at 4:00PM, EST

In this clinic we will study the factors that determine the efficacy of
online marketing Email copy at generating clicks and sales.

During the Live Clinic, Dr. McGlaughlin will share the findings of MEC's
research on Email copy effectiveness and illustrate the principles of
effective Email copy writing to optimize actual messages submitted by
MEC Journal members.

***********************************************

--> Special opportunity to Participate in this Clinic:

We invite you to submit your own Email messages for possible real-
time, live optimization by Dr. McGlaughlin and the MEC optimization
specialist staff.

Please submit your messages for consideration by enclosing them in a
common format text file (e.g. MS Word, PDF, etc) and Emailing them as
attachments to:

Mikec@marketingexperiments.com

All submissions received on or before Monday, March 26 at 4:00 PM (ET)
will be considered for inclusion.

***********************************************

>> >> MAKE SURE YOU DON'T MISS THIS CALL...

If you would like to participate, please visit:

https://www.gotomeeting.com/register/622562950

(If you are not yet a subscriber, you will automatically be subscribed
to the Marketing Experiments Journal when you signup for the clinic.)

We will then send you dial-in information and other instructions for
the call.

(Note: If you have already received instructions on how to participate
in this conference, your seat is reserved and you do not need to
register again.)

>> >> Remember, we don't charge a penny for this one-hour
Teleconference call.

If you have colleagues, suppliers, or clients who would like to
participate, simply send them to the same page:

https://www.gotomeeting.com/register/622562950

Finally, if you have any questions, please email us at
editor@marketingexperiments.com

Thank you for your trust,

Mike Clowe
Research Analyst
Marketing Experiments

Note that this version begins with the standard, familiar clinic invitation copy, followed by the special participation offer.

Email B Invitation to the Clinic

***********************************************

--> Participate in this Clinic:

We invite you to submit your own Email messages for possible real-time,
live optimization by Dr. McGlaughlin and the MEC optimization specialist
staff.

Please submit your messages for consideration by enclosing them in a common
format text file (e.g. MS Word, PDF, etc) and Emailing them as attachments
to:

Mike.c@marketingexperiments.com

***********************************************

Topic: Email Marketing Tested: What Makes Email Marketing Copy Effective (or
Ineffective).

Join our no-charge teleconference call THIS Wednesday, March 28
at 4:00PM, EST

In this clinic we will study the factors that determine the efficacy of online
marketing Email copy at generating clicks and sales.

During the Live Clinic, Dr. McGlaughlin will share the findings of MEC's
research on Email copy effectiveness and illustrate the principles of
effective Email copy writing to optimize actual messages submitted by MEC
Journal members.

>> >> MAKE SURE YOU DON'T MISS THIS CALL...

If you would like to participate, please visit:

https://www.gotomeeting.com/register/622562950

(If you are not yet a subscriber, you will automatically be subscribed
to the Marketing Experiments Journal when you signup for the clinic.)

We will then send you dial-in information and other instructions for
the call.

(Note: If you have already received instructions on how to participate
in this conference, your seat is reserved and you do not need to
register again.)

>> >> Remember, we don't charge a penny for this one-hour
teleconference
call.

If you have colleagues, suppliers, or clients who would like to
participate, simply send them to the same page:

https://www.gotomeeting.com/register/622562950

Finally, if you have any questions, please email us at
editor@marketingexperiments.com

Thank you for your trust,

Mike Clowe
Research Analyst
Marketing Experiments

Note that the special participation offer copy is the first thing the reader sees.

Which do you think garnered the greater participation?

TEST—MEC Clinic Invitations
Email # Subs % Subs/Deliv'd. Msg.
Email A—Standard copy at the top 11   .31
Email B—Special offer copy at the top 19   .48
% Difference   55

Check boxWhat you need to understand: Email invitation B yielded a 55% higher participation rate than Email invitation A.

In this case, the fact that the clinic invitation is a standard email message with which the recipients are already familiar affected the click-through rate to the special participation offer. Placing the special offer copy below the standard heading copy reduced the level of participation by more than half.

A number of participants on the clinic call reported that they had not even read down that far before skipping down to click on the registration link, while others had scanned over the offer without the meaning having sunk in.

< Editor’s note: In the clinic session, the order of the two email versions was reversed. >

Participants confirmed that as subscribers they were already familiar with Marketing Experiments and thus credibility and trust were immediately established. Therefore, moving the offer to the top of the body copy improved participation by highlighting the special offer.

Key point: The composition of your target list -- whether distribution is to a “house list” or predominantly to prospects who are unfamiliar with your company or products -- will strongly influence which copy presentation order is most effective. 

So, how can you apply these principles to your own email campaigns? Let’s begin by looking at an offer email example and applying the principles to arrive at an optimized offer message.

Example 2 — Net Detective

Background

Net Detective is an online subscription-based people-search product that offers both a “Standard” level and an upgraded monthly “Plus” subscription.

The purpose of this email was to encourage purchasers of the “Standard” product to upgrade to the “Plus” service.

Product Upgrade Offer — Before (page 1 of 2)

Subject: Net Detective e-Bulletin

This message is only for customers that have purchased Net Detective or who have requested to be notified of special offers.

Customer Name:%%NAME%%

Order Number:%%ORDERID%

I thank you for your purchase of Net Detective and trust that it helped you find what you were looking for. We have been able to keep the price of NetDetective low because you're the one searching through the data, not me.

We also have a product called "Net Detective Plus" which offers an even more comprehensive search. The primary features are:

  • More robust search engine
  • Proprietary database modules for extended searches
  • National criminal database.
  • Registry of sex offenders nationwide.
  • Unclaimed assets database.
  • Social Security Death Index.

It's simple: the investment in the data cost over "X thousand dollars" and "X time" to develop. We wanted to make sure Net Detective was affordable for everyone looking for information on the Internet. Net Detective Plus provides the most comprehensive search available at any cost and is used by many government agencies for background checks.

The sentence preceding the bulleted list implies that the product the customer bought might not have worked. Words like “even more comprehensive” and the bulleted items such as “more robust” imply that something was withheld from the original product. Such connotations can send unfavorable subconscious messages to purchasers with whom your relationship is the most tenuous—new customers without a big “trust account” balance.

Furthermore, the length of the last paragraph will make it hard for the customer to get through the entire message.

Product Upgrade Offer — Before (page 2 of 2)

Right now I can offer you, for a limited time, full access to ALL the modules available in Net Detective Plus. Rather than a one time purchase, Net Detective Plus gives you unlimited searches for a monthly subscription of just $29.95. As a preferred Net Detective customer you can also opt to check it out for $9.95 which gets you three days to search for anything and everything. If you like it, the subscription will automatically activate at the regular monthly rate of $29.95 until you wish to cancel. If not, call the folks at Harris Digital within the three day trial to stop at $9.95 and incur no further charges whatsoever. It's that simple, no strings attached.

To take advantage of this offer, please visit:

UPGRADE TO NET DETECTIVE PLUS!

Thanks for allowing Net Detective to serve your investigational needs.

Jean Harris
Harris Digital Publishing, Inc.

Not only is this paragraph too long but we believe that refraining from listing the price until the customer has clicked through to the offer page should be tested.

Product Upgrade Offer—After Recommended Changes

Subject: Net Detective e-Bulletin

This message is only for customers that have purchased Net Detective or who have requested to be notified of special offers.

Customer Name:%%NAME%%

Order Number:%%ORDERID%%

Dear Customer:

Thank you for your recent purchase of Net Detective. We wanted to give you the first opportunity to try our new premium service Net Detective Plus.

After ___________________________, we have developed a new state of the art search tool that offers the following advantage:

  • Single Field multi-search database.
  • Proprietary database modules for extended searches.
  • National criminal database.
  • Registry of sex offenders nationwide.
  • Unclaimed assets database.
  • Social Security Death Index

 

Referring to specific information about the customer’s purchase by way of the order number eliminates any perception of SPAM and reminds the customer of a recent purchase from you. It also serves to reassure.

The second sentence of the body offers an opportunity to try a premium (“Plus”) service instead of selling them on a “better” version.

We “punched up” Net Detective Plus, using bold text and color, to draw the customer’s attention to the new service.

The second paragraph blank field is used to refer to specific time and cost information (X thousand dollars and X time info).  Specificity  increases credibility.

Note that the last sentence in the paragraph ends with “advantages.” The strongest position of emphasis in sentences and in paragraphs is last word(s). Furthermore, “advantages” is a stronger term than “features” or “benefits” when describing product selling points. “Features” and “benefits” have become so overused that their efficacy has greatly diminished.

Here is the rest of the optimized product offer page:

While Net Detective is affordable for everyone looking for information on the Internet, Net Detective Plus provides professional level searches and is used by many government agencies for background checks.

To find out how you can try this new, advanced (but simple) search tool just click here (link).

Thank you for your trust.

Jean Harris
NetDetective.Com

PS. If you can take a moment to visit our site, now, we can give you a special discounted trial offer.

Harris Digital Publishing Group
1392 S. Woodland Blvd.,
Deland, Fl. 32720
Fax: 386736-3882

Unsubscribe

The first sentence clearly defines the differences between the two products. Referring to use by professional and governmental agencies increases credibility.

The objective of the email is to get a “click.” Removing the price allows the customer to click through and find out more about the product before making a value vs. price decision. That said, even this should be tested.

Use of the postscript and trial offer provides incentive to customers to click through as soon as they receive the notification. The $9.95 3-day trial offer should then be prominently placed on the landing page.

The company name should be “Net Detective” instead of “Harris Digital Publishing.” Familiarity is comforting and reduces purchase anxiety.  Since the customer went to the NetDetective site, purchased the Net Detective product, and received this message from Net Detective, then the company name at the bottom should be “Net Detective.”

Here is a summary of principles and how you can apply them in optimizing your own email marketing messages:

  1. Familiarity and trust. Familiarity and trust are essential to click through.

    How familiar your target prospects already are with you and your products should influence how you structure and order your offer email copy. If they are less familiar, then you should consider establishing credibility and trust first.

  2. Specificity. Specificity adds credibility to your claims. In the Net Detective optimization example, specifics about the time and cost expended in developing the new “Plus” product provide an objective scale with which to measure its value.

    In a world dominated by vague adjectives and superlatives like “great” and “the best,” specificity offers objective context and increases credibility.

  3. Paragraph length. Particularly for unsolicited offers, brevity is the heart of efficacy. Even more than for Website offer pages, where presumably visitors have arrived purposefully seeking information, unsolicited email offers must instantly capture their interest. They must then continually move reader-prospects forward to a desired action—usually a click to a website offer.

    Long paragraphs risk visual intimidation, preventing many from even starting, and loss of forward momentum toward the climactic Call-to-Action. Keep paragraphs short and messages simple.

  4. Identity. A key factor in minimizing purchase anxiety is ensuring that customers have a sense of comfort about who you are.  Consequently, your purchase path must be as consistent as possible when it comes to your identity and your brand. That means that everything starting with the “From:” envelope field on your email offer, through your salutation and signature blocks, to your order process Web pages (including the URL) should provide unity of identity.
  5. Unfavorable connotations. Beware of unfavorable connotations. As illustrated in the Net Detective example, how you characterize your offer can inadvertently increase anxiety or undermine trust. Whether suggesting that something was wrong with the product or diminishing the product’s perceived quality by stressing its low cost, you risk unintended negative connotations.

    One way to detect and eliminate these is through the “focus group” approach.  However, rather than taking the expensive and time consuming 3rd party path, you might simply send a test mailing to a handful of employees’ family members or friends and then survey them about their perceptions of the product, the company, and the offer.

  6. Urgency. Urgency is a subjective motivating force that, properly understood and applied, can transform interested prospects into right-now purchasers. We saw a practical application of urgency in the form of a limited-time discounted trial offer in the Net Detective optimization example.

In Part2, we will study the two distinct types of offer-related urgency and see them applied in a recent email test conducted by Marketing Experiments.

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Notes

RELATED MEC REPORTS:

Literature Review

As part of our research, we have prepared a review of the best Internet resources on this topic.

Rating System

These sites were rated for usefulness and clarity, but alas, the rating is purely subjective.

* = Decent | ** = Good | *** = Excellent | **** = Indispensable

About This Brief

Credits:

Editor — Frank Green

Writer(s) — Adam Lapp
Bob Kemper
Frank Green

Contributor(s) — Aaron Rosenthal

HTML Designer — Cliff Rainer

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