Answers to Your Top 11 Questions About Email Marketing #EmailSci

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Allyson Galle
Allyson Galle



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On Wednesday we hosted our latest webinar, The Science of Email Marketing where our very own Dan Zarrella presented some juicy new email marketing data and insights. So juicy, in fact, that some equally juicy follow-up questions came rolling in from those listening to the webinar.

So we read through them all (yes, we actually read your questions!) and pulled out the 11 questions that were asked most frequently, and we thought everyone would benefit from hearing a little bit more about. So here they are, your top email marketing questions from Wednesday's webinar, answered!

1) Should an email come from a person or a business for a better open rate? 

This is an excellent question because it's the subject of ongoing debate amongst email marketing -- and that's because there's not one right answer that works for everyone. We performed an A/B test of our own, in fact, to see whether emails sent from the lovely Maggie (one of the people responsible for yesterday's webinar, in fact!) performed better than emails sent from HubSpot:

sender name test1 resized 600

As you can see, the treatment's 0.96% click-through rate beat out the control's 0.73% click-through rate -- which also yielded us 131 more leads than our control. So it seems that for us, emails sent from a real person's name are more likely to get clicked than emails sent by a company's name.

Thing is, there's a case to be made for the fact that your email recipients might know your company better than they know an individual within your company. We get that. That's why it's critical to perform an A/B test like this for yourself to determine which method is best for you.

2) How many characters do you suggest for the subject line of an email?

While some email clients display a bit more subject line characters than others, shoot to keep it under 50 characters, especially because many recipients will be reading on mobile devices that display even less of the subject line -- often 20 characters or less. To deal with this discrepancy, make sure the beginning of your email subject line gives the recipient enough information to understand the contents of your email, just in case your subject line is cut off a bit prematurely.

3) Does using numbers or special characters in an email's subject line impact its open rate?

Yes, though not enormously so. As detailed on the webinar , ampersands, brackets, and parentheses showed slightly higher click-through rates when included in the subject line, while things like question marks and hashtags (pound signs, if you're still living in the 20th century) did appear to have some negative impact. When it comes to symbols like these, it's not something that's going to make or break your open rate, but if you can avoid the overzealous exclamation point, do it -- especially because exclamation points often trigger emails to go into SPAM folders. Your subscribers are likely already desensitized to the typical displays of feigned emotion, so exclamation points and excessive use of capitalization will probably have no positive impact on your email.

4) What is considered a decent click-through rate for an email?

This is going to depend on what type of email you're sending. As we've previously reported , transactional emails such as order receipts or confirmations have the highest click-through rate, followed by newsletters, with promotional emails having the lowest CTR of all. It makes sense -- think of how much more engaged a brand new customer is with your brand (someone who might receive an order confirmation email), compared to someone who is just periodically staying up to date on your brand (someone who might receive a newsletter), compared to a lead (someone who might receive a promotional email). So a decent CTR for you is going to vary depending on what type of email you're sending, and to which list.

That being said, eMarketer published the average email click-through rate of emails in North America, and found it was at 5.5% in Q3 of 2011 , up slightly from the previous quarter. The thing is, this is across all industries and email types -- so the data isn't necessarily a proper benchmark for every marketer to measure their emails by. The key is to continue testing variables in your emails that will help improve your click-through rate, and I'd start with list segmentation . Segmenting your email lists is some seriously low-hanging fruit, and has shown to improve email relevance by 34% . And you know what more relevant content means -- more clicks!

5) Is the click-through rate of business emails higher on mobile devices than on computers?

MarketingSherpa  cites a case study in which click-through rates for a company's email marketing increased a dramatic 53% after the company optimized their emails for mobile. Talk about results! While that might be on the dramatic end of the spectrum, the fact of the matter is that when your company optimizes its emails for mobile, your click-through rates will rise. Believe it or not, not every company has  optimized their email marketing for mobile . And mobile optimization is a critical component of your email marketing strategy -- according to Comscore , 70 million Americans utilize mobile email, and 43% of those users are checking their email on their mobiles four or more times per day. If you were listening to the webinar, you remember Dan pointing out that 80% of users in his data indicated they utilize mobile email. If you want to increase your mobile click-through rate, make sure every email you're sending out is optimized for mobile, because your audience IS there.

6) What is considered a decent unsubscribe rate?

The short answer?  Under 1% . Aside from being generally trustworthy, you'll be able to achieve this rate by only using opt-in email lists, properly segmenting your lists, only sending relevant content at an appropriate sending frequency, and religiously honoring unsubscribes. Not sure if your practices are considered trustworthy? There's a free service by Return Path called Sender Score that will tell you.

And remember, unsubscribes aren't all bad! When recipients do unsubscribe, consider it a natural list cleanse -- after all, for the health of your Sender Score, you don't want to be sending emails to those who don't want to receive them. If your unsubscribe rate stays under 1%, don't let those disinterested few get you down!

7) When should I be sending my emails? 

There are really three frequency measurements you should consider, backed up by data from HubSpot's Dan Zarrella :

  • Time of Day - Dan Zarrella's data showed emails sent at 6 AM had the highest click-through rate. Emails sent from 10 AM-12 PM showed another small spike, and the later the time in the evening, the higher the click-through rate climbed.
  • Day of the Week - Experimenting with weekend emails could benefit your business, perhaps due to the lack of other competing emails coming through on Saturday and Sunday. Zarrella's data showed the lowest click-through rate (and highest unsubscribe rate!) occurred on Tuesday, with Wednesday and Friday coming in as the weekdays with the highest click-through rates.
  • Number of Days Per Week - Zarrella's data showed that click-through rates decrease the more emails you send in a given campaign, so our best practice here is to "chill" a bit. Space your emails out so your subscribers don't feel bombarded. We've also written a blog post that outlines the steps you can take to perform your own email sending frequency test -- check it out !

8) If there are multiple links in your email copy, how do you balance the attention you give to each of them?

It's never a bad idea to include multiple links in an email, since each link is a call-to-action that could reconvert your email recipient. That said, you don't want those calls-to-action to compete with one another, which is why it's crucial that you decide exactly what it is you want your email recipient to do upon receiving your email. That way, none of the links are competing with one another for attention -- they're all contributing to the same goal! For example, when we send an email, we have multiple links contained therein, but they all help us reach our end goal of reconverting recipients and moving them further down the sales funnel:


call to action emails


The first two links called out in orange both lead to the same landing page, but they are accompanied further down the email with a second call-to-action that encourages the recipient to reconvert on more bottom-of-the-funnel offer -- a free trial of our marketing software. Both of these links work together to help us meet our reconversion goals, so however our recipients choose to interact with this content, we're happy campers!

9) What is the difference between a paid and organic email contact? Is one better than the other?

An "organic" email contact is someone who chose to subscribe to emails from your company by clicking on a subscribe button on your website, filling out a form on one of your landing pages, or otherwise indicating their willingness to receive your emails. A paid email contact is someone who didn't indicate they wanted to receive email from you, but whose contact information you purchased.

As for whether one is better than the other ... yes, organic email contacts are way better than those you pay for. We've written an entire blog post on this subject , but in a nutshell, those who opt in to receive your email communications are more interested in your company than those you pay for, are less likely to mark you as SPAM, will unsubscribe at a far lower rate, and as such, your email deliverability rates and sender reputation won't get totally annihilated.

10) Any tips on how to comply with the CAN-SPAM Act?

Definitely. There are four main points that are important for email marketers to remain compliant with CAN-SPAM:

  • Don't use misleading, deceptive, or falsified information in your 'From,' 'To,' or 'Reply-to' fields, email subject line, or routing information. Clearly identify who the email is coming from -- be it your company or a specific employee within your organization -- and make sure your subject line accurately describes the contents of the email.
  • Include your company's physical address in every single email you send out. These are typically placed in an email's footer.
  • Include an easy to find unsubscribe link in every single email, and make sure to honor unsubscribes promptly and completely. "Promptly" is defined as within ten business days (but try to be speedier than that), and "completely" means that you do not sell or transfer their email address to any other lists after the unsubscribe is complete.
  • Make sure the Email Service Provider (ESP) you're using is reputable. If something illegal does go down with your emails, both your ESP and your company can be held responsible.

Check out our blog post on the laws marketers need to know to avoid legal backlash  if you want to learn more about CAN-SPAM.

11) What are marketing automation tools? Is there a particular marketing automation tool that HubSpot recommends?

When referring to email marketing, marketing automation tools help marketing departments like yours carry out automated email campaigns efficiently. They can integrate with your CRM to track the actions and behaviors of your leads, and can launch email campaigns based on these behaviors or other triggers you set, such as download history or other forms of lead intelligence. Marketing automation tools are critical to carrying out your lead-nurturing campaigns, and they can also help you monitor the performance of your email campaigns so you can continue to make adjustments that improve your performance. As to whether we recommend any marketing automation tools, well, we're obviously partial to our own marketing automation software ;-)

What email marketing questions are still on your mind?

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