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How to Pivot from Low Open and Click-Through Rates on Emails

With some strategic changes and a bit of hard work, you can improve your email marketing. 

Every marketer knows the value of a quality email list. With a good list on your side, it’s almost like you have a license to print money every time you send out a message. Of course, cultivating a good list can be a challenge, from getting signups to keeping list members engaged and interested. If your list has been lagging lately, this article is for you. 

The two main problems we are going to address in the article below are low open rates and low click-through rates. When you send a message to your list, you want as many people as possible to open those messages, and then you want a healthy percentage of those who open to click on a link in the email and take the desired action. As those metrics start to fall, so too will the profitability of this marketing endeavor. 

Fortunately, you don’t have to be resigned to poor results just because the recent performance of your list has dropped off. With some strategic changes and a bit of hard work, things can be looking up once again in the near future. 

Setting a Benchmark

As with anything in your business, you won’t know to act on poor email performance unless you are tracking it carefully. So, that’s the first message that you should take away from this article… Tracking your email campaign performance is vital. If you are just sending out messages and assuming that they are performing well, you could be missing out on a big opportunity to improve. 

There are two things you want to look for with email campaign performance. First, you want to evaluate how your emails are performing as compared to industry standards. You’d like to at least get results that are in line with industry norms, if not better. Also, you want to monitor how your emails are performing over time. Are things like open rates and click-through rates trending up or down? Obviously, an upward trend is a sign that you are doing things right, while a downward trend means that changes are required to get back on track. 

It’s easy enough to monitor your own trends, but how do you know how you are performing as compared to industry standards? That can be a little tricky, but there are some benchmark numbers you can find through research that will help you judge your campaigns. 

First, let’s talk about open rates. If the emails you send out don’t get opened, you simply won’t have an opportunity to make a sale. As a general rule of thumb, you can look at 20% as a rough average for the percentage of marketing emails that are opened. While that might sound like a low number if you are new to email marketing, getting one in every five people to open your emails is actually a solid performance. If you happen to be doing quite a bit better than that, you can feel great about how your marketing is working. 

The average open rate does vary a bit by industry, but not dramatically. For example, messages sent by companies in real estate or financial markets tend to be opened a little more regularly—maybe around 25%—while software and electronics lag down near the 20% benchmark. That’s not a big spread, however, so no matter what industry you happen to be in, you now have a clear target for your open rates. 

Click-through rate is the other key metric that we want to look at in this article. As you might expect, the rate of people who actually click on a link in your emails is quite a bit lower than the rate of opening those emails. An average click-through rate is about seven percent of the emails that get opened. It’s important to note that the seven percent click-through average is not out of all emails you send, but just out of those that get opened. Again here, there is some minor variance from one industry to the next, but the average across all markets tends to remain between seven to nine percent. 

Let’s do a little math to see how the performance of an average email campaign could play out.

  • Imagine you have an email list with 10,000 subscribers. Each time you send out a marketing message, it goes to all 10,000 people on that list.
  • If you are getting a relatively average 20% open rate on those messages, that means 2,000 people are opening each message that you send. Doing a little work on improving the quality of your messages, and moving that rate up to 25% as a result, would mean that an additional 500 people open each email.
  • Moving to click-through rate, we’ll again assume average performance, which this time means around seven percent click-through on the emails that are opened. So, if you had 2,000 emails opened, and achieved a seven percent click-through rate, you would have received 140 clicks on whatever call-to-action was included in the message.

This example highlights just how powerful an email list can be for a business. Amassing 10,000 email subscribers is not an easy task, of course, but it’s not such a large figure as to be impossible. And, even at that level, you would be putting your message directly in front of the eyes of a couple of thousand interested individuals, and more than 100 are likely to click. That’s a powerful marketing opportunity that you should continue to optimize in order to achieve ideal results. 

Improving Open Rates

At this point, we are going to get back to the issue posed in the title of the article… What do you do if your open and click-through rates are low? Or what if they have been pretty good but are now trending in the wrong direction? You’ll want to make changes sooner than later to turn around this lagging performance and get a better return on the time you invest in email marketing.

First, let’s talk about open rates. When someone on your list sees that they have received an email from your business, they are likely to at least read the subject line before deciding whether they will open the message or delete it. The subject line is all they can see initially, so it’s incredibly important. Here are a few tips for writing great subject lines:

  • Appeal to emotion. This is a common thread throughout basically any type of copywriting. Think about the various emotions that could be involved based on the message you are sending and tie your subject line into those feelings. For example, if your message has to do with solving a recurring problem, use the subject line to tap into the frustration that the recipient may be feeling.
  • Make an offer. You don’t want to hide the details of a special offer within the body of the email, because the message might never be opened. So, lead with what you are offering and present it clearly in the subject line. If there is a 25% off coupon code in the email, make sure the subject line states exactly that.
  • Keep it concise. Remember that many of your email subscribers are going to open their email messages on a mobile device – meaning there won’t be enough room on the screen to display a long subject line in its entirety. So, by keeping your subject lines short, you can stand a better chance of making sure the whole message is seen no matter what device happens to be in use.
  • Be true to the message. Yes – you want to optimize your subject lines to improve open rates. No, that doesn’t mean writing deceptive subject lines that entice a recipient to click, only to find that the message within doesn’t match up at all with what you promised. Maintaining a tight connection between the subject line and the message itself will protect your reputation as an honest marketer and should also help to improve click-through rates.

There is no way around the fact that some trial and error will be required to dial in your subject line writing. Experiment with different types of subject lines and track their performance carefully to see what works best with your audience.

Optimizing for Click-Throughs

So, once you get to a point where a solid percentage of your emails are being opened, how do you get more clicks within those messages? As you might expect, it comes down to improving the content of the message to make it more enticing to the reader. Again in this section, we are going to go through a list of points that you can consider while working on the content of your emails.

  • Avoid the wall of text. If the first thing a reader sees when opening one of your emails is a big wall of text, they may quickly click away and delete the message. Most people aren’t willing to invest a lot of time in reading an email message, especially a promotional one. So, work to keep your message short and to the point. Right from the start, make it clear what you have to offer in the email and why the recipient should click on the link you provide.
  • Make it clear. Each message you send should have a goal, or some action that you want the recipient to take. While you will know what that goal is, the person receiving your message will have no idea unless you tell them. In other words, make it extremely obvious what you want the reader to do once they open the message. Any confusion or distraction will just be an invitation for the reader to click out of the email and do something else.
  • Consider a deadline. This isn’t a tactic that you need to use with every single email message, but consider using a deadline for some of the special offers you send out. If you don’t use a deadline or create some form of time pressure, the recipient may just save the email and think that they’ll use the offer later, and then they’ll never come back to it. Create urgency by including a date and time when the offer will expire. This could be something like a 24-hour flash sale, or a discount code that is good for the coming week.

Don’t waste any more time allowing your email list to slide by in a state of underperformance. Get to work today and seek better results by implementing some of the strategies and techniques we discussed above. With slow and steady progress, you can gradually turn your email list from a disappointment into a powerful tool that drives your business forward. Good luck!

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Emily Snyder
About Emily Snyder:

As a Digital Specialist, Emily loves working with our team to execute marketing strategies for our clients. She enjoys working on the more technical side of a variety of projects to help clients meet their goals, whether it's building an email, developing a new page on a website or creating ads and content on social media.

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