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Want real email results? Stop focusing on the open rate

Contributor Ryan Phelan explains how painting a picture of your customer over time — using email engagement data — can yield significant results.

Even after all this time, when we’ve learned so much about what matters in email performance, I’m still hearing people say things like “It’s all about the open.”

I just heard that line at a recent conference, and it took all my willpower not to challenge the speaker right at the podium.

Folks, it’s not all about the open. It’s all about the clicks. What are your customers clicking on in the email? Are you mapping those clicks and learning from them?

Sure, when you’re talking about subject lines, you do need to get that open. Without the open, you don’t get anything. But I don’t know anybody who gets compensated on opens.

The open rate is not a key performance indicator. It’s not what your clients or your bosses want to see. They want to see conversions, and it takes clicks to get those conversions. Further, those clicks will yield data you can use in your segmentation, targeting and trigger strategies to deliver the most relevant content possible.

Opens don’t drive relevance, and, in today’s email climate, relevance makes the difference.

What’s your click strategy?

You probably spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to get people to open your emails. Subject lines are a big part of that strategizing (along with having a clear and recognizable sender name).

Almost all marketers test subject lines. It’s easy to do, now that almost every email service provider offers a testing tool.

The challenging part is moving on from the subject line and looking at your click strategy, in which you show how you care what happens when your customers click in your emails.

Naturally, you want them to convert, but that’s not the whole story. What else are they clicking on in your emails? Do you have each one of your links tagged so you can see, first, that they’re clicking, and, second, what they’re clicking on?

Click strategy and onboarding emails

A great place to start implementing a well-thought-out click strategy is with your onboarding or welcome series.

These emails go out at the beginning of your relationship with your new subscribers. You’re trying to find out what interests these newcomers because you want to deliver relevant content to their inboxes.

You could have asked them about their interests when they signed up, but if you’re like 90 percent of retail emailers, you just took the address and ran with it. So, your onboarding or welcome emails will help you map out your data story.

This is another strong argument for sending a series of emails, not just a simple “Thanks for subscribing” message, by the way. Onboarding emails can yield a wealth of data if you can map out the data story in each successive message.

A step-by-step click strategy for onboarding

As part of your click strategy for onboarding emails, you should give each message in the series a unique purpose, with a strong offer and clear call to action that not only gives your subscriber something to click on but also yields more data clues for your segmenting and targeting plans.

If you can’t manage to focus on a single message in each email, you can design zones in your email, each with a clear function. Then, when customers click on something in one zone in that first email, you can correlate the clicks to a primary interest category. If they click on the same zone in the second email, if they click on something in the same category (say, apparel, jewelry or sporting goods if you’re a general-purpose retailer), that reinforces those first clicks as indicators of primary interests.

If they click on other things (apparel in the first email, home good in the second), you now have secondary interest categories. All this data can support your segmentation and targeting strategies in future emails.

Also, you can use the data to set up a simple model — a device that helps you predict action. You can take the zone data from the earlier emails and design a third email that highlights the categories they clicked in the first two messages.

Sounds simple, right? It is. Now, go do it.

Remember the KPI

KPIs are important because you must be able to report on them to your bosses. How you report is as important as what you report.

Here’s what I suggest you focus on to maximize success in fostering long-term engagement. You must be able to track the categories they click on, how many people click on the different categories, whether it changes from one email to the next, how many of those clicks end in conversion, and whether they were micro-conversions (view a product, download product information or request an appointment) or a macro-conversion (they purchased, registered for an event or did whatever your primary goal for that campaign would be).

Your click strategy also must plan to track clicks over time to measure whether it’s driving positive change and to look by category and customers to see whether they clicked or converted.

Don’t shy away from going for multiple conversion types in an email — a series of micro-conversions can lead up to a macro event.

Where a click strategy can take you

Congratulations! Now you have developed a click strategy. But don’t get ahead of yourself, bucko! The fun has only just begun.

Don’t assume that one click on an email zone or interest category indicates the subscriber’s only preference. It just shows you that for that moment in time, they were interested in that offer or that action.

Rather than resting on your strategy-developing laurels, try to expand your understanding about your customers and adapt your model to past purchases, to preferences, to your attrited or lapsed customers or to your overall promotional strategy.

If you expand your universe with what you can learn from a single click, you’ll find you can now go to deeper levels and deliver even more information about your email shoppers. Are they first-timers? Do they buy only with discounts or incentives? Do they browse on Tuesday but go back to the email and click through to buy on Friday?

The data you collect from your click strategy and model gives you many ways to slice up your database and customize messages to your shoppers.

Wrapping up: Let the zombies have the opens

The path toward becoming a true First Person Marketer starts with something simple, like giving subscribers something meaningful to click on in your onboarding emails, and then tracking and analyzing those clicks.

The open rate will give you some data, but it’s not going to lead you down all of those interesting data paths or give you information you can use to send ever-more-relevant and valuable emails.

Once you extract what you need from the open rate, leave it on the ground to distract the zombies while you grab the data and run like mad.

by Ryan Phelan
source: Marketing Land