just-ask-caterpillarAs inbound marketers -- especially us email marketers -- we all but obsess over our clickthrough rates. If people are clicking through in our emails, it means we’ve provided content that's interesting and relevant enough to make them want to learn more.

This gets our foot in the door, enabling us to begin the process of educating email recipients, nurturing them into qualified leads, and passing them off to our sales teams to close as customers.

Yet, more often than not, our clickthrough rates tend to settle in the single digit range -- and many times, on the low end of that spectrum. So how can we improve these numbers? Well, of course there are a lot of ways. Just take a look at the long lists of email marketing best practices out there. But, amusingly enough, one trick you don’t hear all that often is actually one of the most obvious solutions. So I'm going to let you in on a little secret ...

If you want to know why your email recipients aren’t clicking on your emails, you should ask them.

How to Design a Simple, Optimized Email Survey

That's right! One of the best -- and most under-utilized -- uses for email is conducting quick, simple surveys. Surveys are an easy and effective way to collect more data about your contacts. Plus, if you design your email survey to be frictionless enough (we’ll get to how in just a moment), chances are good that you’ll get a decent response rate.

Design Your Email Surveys for Maximum Response Rate

So how do you design your survey email to reduce anxiety and maximize response rates? First of all, keep it to one or two questions. Remember: You’re asking your contacts to spend their time on something that is mainly benefitting you, so minimizing the amount of time you’re asking them to spend on the survey is a smart move. You should also minimize the effort required to complete the survey by allowing them to provide feedback within the email itself, if possible. (For example, HubSpot’s email tool has a click tracking feature, which allows you to see who clicked on which links in your emails. You can see how you can execute this method in the example I'll share momentarily.)

You should also design the email itself to be brief and to the point. Don’t include a lot of copy that they need to read; just get right to it. Lastly, position the email copy around them, not you. People are much more willing to take action when it benefits them. So instead of saying ...

“Please take this survey so we can learn more about what content you like.”

Phrase it as ...

“We aim to create content that is useful and relevant to you. Will you take a minute to let us know what you like so we can focus on the topics that interest you the most?”

Spelling out exactly how their participation will benefit them makes it much more likely they will take that desired action.

Design Your Email Surveys to Provide You With Valuable Takeaways

The next important step in designing these survey emails is to decide exactly what information you're looking to gain from recipients. What is the goal of your survey? What question are you looking to answer?

Once you’ve identified your main question, you’ll need to decide on the various options to provide. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. Avoid asking leading questions (ones that incline the survey taker to choose one answer over another), and make sure you provide enough options to cover the majority of the survey respondents’ opinions. While it may be tempting to account for additional opinions and responses by including an “other” option, keep in mind that this can complicate the results and spoil the simplicity of the email survey. If you choose to leave out the “other” option, you can simply request that respondents select the answer they feel is the closest fit.

An Example Email Survey: “Why Didn’t You Click?”

After struggling with a decreasing clickthrough rate in my own email sends for a few months, I decided to send a survey email to my list to determine why they weren’t clicking on my emails. I phrased the question as, “When I don’t click on emails from HubSpot, it’s primarily because ...”, thereby centering the question around them, not me. Then I came up with the top five reasons why I thought my email recipients weren't clicking through to download the content offers I was sending them (which consisted of mostly educational ebooks and webinars). I kept the email short and the copy direct.

Below is the survey email I sent:


This email received a record level of engagement, with a 7.8% clickthrough rate. I was also able to collect a significant number of responses, which I then broke out into their respective categories. The data revealed that the majority of my email recipients just don't have time to read all of our content. The next most common reason? They receive emails from me too frequently. From the results of my survey, I was able to discern that the folks I’m emailing are often overwhelmed by the volume and frequency of our content, which gave me great insight into my contacts and their content consumption habits, as well as a very clear takeaway for how to improve my email marketing.

I acted on these results by offering the option to dial back on the frequency of my email sends to anyone who had indicated they were feeling overwhelmed. I also ran an A/B test to see if my email list preferred short-form content over long-form content, which showed that, in keeping with the “not enough time” response, they largely preferred the short-form content.

Conducting this email survey not only helped me evaluate the reasons my recipients weren’t clicking on my emails, but it also helped me identify improvements I could make to increase my clickthrough rates and make my email marketing more lovable.

Ready to run the same experiment with your own list? Start designing your own email survey, and see what you can learn from it!

Conducted an awesome email survey? I’d love to hear about it! Find me on Twitter at @sarahbethgo or shoot me an email at sarah@hubspot.com.

Image Credit: mrpbps

optimizing email marketing ebook

Originally published May 1, 2013 2:00:00 PM, updated October 30 2019


Email Marketing