[Guide] Email Marketing Automation best practices

What is Email Marketing Automation?

Posting the snippet from another post of mine where I have covered this topic in detail. 

“Email marketing automation is the process of automating the delivery of an existing email campaign, which otherwise would have had to be sent manually, by employing a tool. 

Unlike the manually sent emails, an automated email is triggered by a specific user action, inaction, or an ‘event’ date, which is why it is also called triggered email. “ via

Moving to the best practices, we have bucketed them under three headers for the reader’s convenience. Suggestions, tips, feedback, and thank yous would be hugely appreciated. Care to add them in the comments. 

1. Content 

When it comes to content, I won’t become Captain Obvious and go blah blah about good email copy. There is a ton of content on the web talking about the importance of email copy and more content on how can we create one. 

Even more so, there is no unique answer to this. The type of email copy depends on the stage of a user’s lifecycle, trigger, value proposition, and 99 other factors.

We shall instead talk about how to make email’s content experience better vis-a-vis automated email. 

i) Align email copy with the landing page 

People often make this mistake with the paid ads: a targeted ad but a supremely clueless landing page. 

Since there is a huge requirement to generate leads but way lesser inclination to create great landing pages, invariably across all organizations, we often see cases like this above. 

After the bad example from Amazon, here is an excellent example from GAP. 

 

Want to learn more about landing pages vis-a-vis ads, read this interesting piece by Raphael Paulin-Daigle – Message Match: One Weird Trick for Better Landing Pages

Consistency is the key when you are providing an experience to the user that spans across multiple screens. If there is no cohesion between what the user sees across screens, he will get confused, and it can easily lead to him bouncing off. 

Thus, we have to ensure that the landing page is an extension of the email. Anything other than that will require the user to reorient his flow which is not a good UX. 

Here is a quick checklist that you can abide by while building the landing page:

  1. Ensure that the landing page copy is conveying the same sentiment as the email is. Especially the CTA
  2. If you are sending the email to mobile users, make sure that both the email and the landing page are mobile-compatible. (In the current scenario when mobile is ubiquitous, this is almost imperative at all times)
  3. Keep consistency in the design. Maintain the same typography, color scheme, vector standard for your email that you follow for your website.
  4. Ensure that the URL you are sending is active for a decent period. A good number of the users click on your email a reasonable after delivery.  

Long story short, ensure that your landing page speaks for the email and vice versa. 

ii) Preview the email across email clients and platforms 

Email marketing tools typically provides you the preview across mobile and desktop, but that’s the end of it. To understand how the email would look to the end-user, a marketer usually tests the email in his inbox, which is mostly Gmail. The more ambitious ones take the plunge of testing it across a few other email clients accessible to them which are mostly Outlook and Yahoo, or maximum iPhone. 

This is fine as long as the list size is lesser than 1000 subscribers. But when we grow, so do the number of subscribers who access their email via applications that are not Gmail, Outlook, or other quintessential ones that marketers cannot reach. 

Fun fact: did you know that 5% of users access their email via Samsung mail? If your list size is 1000, that’s 50 people. Have you tested your email for that?  

Therefore, when the list size is relatively big, it’s important to test all scenarios. Email tools normally let you preview across only a few devices or clients, so there are various 3rd party tools that let you preview across as many as 70 clients. 

Listing a few of them below

iii) Send your best content 

Send the content which has the most propensity of resonating with the customer. This is invariably true for any email. 

The best place to find that content is undoubtedly your Google Analytics report.

Checking the analytics helps evade a prevalent mistake that most organizations make. In their email, they send the content that they want their subscribers to read instead of the ones that their subscribers are naturally inclined to read.  In essence, they place their interest above their subscribers’. 

Another reason why good content is paramount in email marketing automation is that email falls under the purview of push marketing. 

Source

I found a great resource on Slideshare that explains the difference between push and pull marketing better. 

Email, thus, interrupts users to seek their attention and therefore is highly likely to get ignored. Powerful content will save the day. 

2. Frequency 

i. Give users the power to manage their email frequency

It may sound commonsensical now that sending more emails doesn’t mean more conversion. In fact, the opposite sounds more believable and is even established now. 

Take the example of Toptable(once an online restaurant booking service acquired by Booking.com)- “those receiving only one email a week had made 14% more bookings than those receiving two emails over that three month test period!”

Now, how often should you email your subscribers is debatable. Business use-case, geography, time, branding et al all come into the picture.

Most email automation tools provide an easy way to let your subscribers manage frequency. (check with yours)

A great benefit of doing this is that it helps you mitigate unsubscribes. A subscriber who is annoyed with the high frequency of emails would choose to manage frequency instead of unsubscribing, if he doesn’t want to totally disassociate with the brand. 

ii. Stop email fatigue 

Marketers need to be strategic instead of being all over the place. However, when a myriad automated campaigns are running together, we have to ensure that

  • Two different automation workflows are not getting triggered at the same time, and
  • There is no conflict between automated and standalone email campaigns. 

Frequency capping

In the previous point, we talked about allowing users to manage the frequency. In this point, we are talking about managing frequency yourself at the account level. 

If your email marketing software doesn’t provide that, start looking for an alternative today. 

A good example of frequency capping from mobile engagement product Batch

DND

Set the days and timings when you don’t want to send any emails to the user. 

For instance, night or Sundays or Diwali or Christmas, these are the times when checking your email would be the last priority of the user. So, you should set DND for those days. 

iii. Group subscribers by CTR(Click Through Rate)

This is tad advanced and requires a bit of handholding if excel is not your strong point. So let me make this easy for you. Download your customer data and plot the CTR against each user. 

SubscriberClick rate
Walt2.1%
Jesse0.4%
Skyler6%

Now, segment the users based on CTR.

The group having higher CTR certainly looks more interested in listening to you, so their email frequency could be increased, or they could be pushed into the next stage of the funnel. 

Subsequently, the group with lower CTR should be reassessed. You could verify if the low CTR is because of the database decay

Now you know who are your active and inactive subscribers, and also the degree of their proactiveness. You could ascertain their treatment depending on your objective. 

3. Optimization

Unlike standalone email campaigns, automated campaigns are recurring in nature. They are in autopilot mode, which is why they give us more than enough reason, and scope, to optimize them with decent urgency. Let’s see how you can do this. 

i. Identify and optimize your underperforming email campaigns 

There are two ways to identify such campaigns:

  1. Filter the campaigns which are performing lesser than your average campaigns.
  2. Test every campaign against a control group.

The first point is abundantly clear. The campaigns which are giving lesser than average performance with respect to opens, clicks, replies, or just conversion, could be filtered out and individually examined to improve the performance. 

The second point talks about testing the campaign against the control group. 

What’s a control group?

A control group is a statistically significant group of users within the target segment, who are not treated with the campaign. 

We create a control group to measure the conversion of users who were subjected to the campaign against the ones who weren’t. If the conversion of the control group is higher than the test group or comparatively similar, then it raises the question on the utility of running the campaign at all. 

Statisticshowto has given a beautiful description, and it’s a must-read

An experiment is split into two groups: the experimental group and the control group. The experimental group is given the experimental treatment and the control group is given either a standard treatment or nothing. For example, let’s say you wanted to know if Gatorade increased athletic performance. Your experimental group would be given the Gatorade and your control group would be given regular water.

The conditions must be exactly the same for all members in the experiment. The only difference between members must be the item or thing you are conducting the experiment to look at.

So the takeaway is- test every campaign against the control group and compare the conversions. 

ii. Identify the best trigger to send the email 

One of the keys to sending a great automated email is to identify the right trigger. A simple example can be- someone who added products to their wishlist is more likely to purchase it than the one who just viewed the product page.

There are some popular triggers which are invariably applicable to most businesses. Some email marketing tools even provide pre-defined triggers to get started quickly.

Listing down some of Freshmarketer’s pre-defined triggers

Email eventsEmail Sent
Email Delivered
Email Opened
Email Clicked
Email Unsubscribed
Web eventsPage Visit
Custom Visit
Journey eventsJourney Entered
Journey Exited

Moreover, you could take an unconventional approach based on a gutsy hypothesis like one retailer eBags did. 

Etailer eBags individually calculated the best time to send the email by looking at the behaviour of each user within the email list, recording the exact time when they signed up to the list. A test they ran found using this broadcast time found that…

– Click-through rates increasing by 20%.
– Conversion rates increasing by 65%.
– Average value per order increasing by 45%.
– Overall average revenue per recipient increased by 187%.

iii. Understand the importance of delayed action 

There is a lot of wisdom floating on the web about sending the same email twice to increase the open rate. 

All those writers, despite their good intent, miss the importance of delayed action.

In a survey (albeit an old one) by the UK DMA demonstrated the value of delayed action in emails. More than 50% of users declared they don’t immediately engage with the email despite liking it and refer back to it later.

Imagine your reaction opening the same email twice (yes, that’s right). Subscribers too would feel the same. 

iv. Don’t send time-sensitive emails in an automated fashion

Things like coupon codes, discount deals, etc. cannot be automated. Imagine the annoyance of the receiver to click on a discount code after it has expired. Also, many email marketers acknowledge that delayed clicks and opens are way more valuable than the immediate ones.

Conclusion 

Automated emails are triggered by an event- user action or inaction. 

Having said that, one of the lesser acknowledge benefits of automated emails is that it increases the touchpoints with active users. The more the engagement of the user on your site or product, the higher the automated emails because all of those emails would be triggered by one of the user actions. 

Likewise, the frequency would accordingly go down for the inactive users, reducing the possibility of annoying users who totally do not want to listen to you. 

In the absence of automation, we were to treat active and inactive users in the same manner.