E-mail clickthroughs can be like hubs on bicycle wheels. A lot is going on around them and needs to connect through them in order to deliver its rider to a destination. So direct marketers believe optimizing e-mail clickthrough rates will help them reach their goals of higher sales.
"I think of [the clickthrough rate] as the fulcrum in your e-mail marketing program, particularly from a metric and conversion perspective," says Loren T. McDonald, vice president of industry relations for e-mail marketing firm Silverpop of Atlanta.
If the goal of an e-mail is to get its recipient to take action, he elaborates, then the clickthrough is the first decision, or the first action in the process leading to conversion.
He and other representatives of e-mail marketing services firms provided a plethora of optimization ideas.
1. Think of e-mail marketing as a process.
Mike's Bikes of San Rafael, Calif. is seeing an e-newsletter view rate of 60 percent, possibly due to the 20 percent discount sign-up incentive. Nine percent of January's revenue is attributable to the e-mail marketing efforts, says the company's Sacramento, Calif.-based e-mail provider, StreamSend.
But optimizing all the links in the chain can help marketers improve at every step along the way, resulting in a cumulative improvement, says Kevin Mabley, senior vice president of strategic services for Dallas-based marketing services firm Epsilon.
2. Segment recipients, and target them accordingly.
Dan Forootan, president and CEO of StreamSend, points to CeramicArtsDaily.org. The ceramics news site provides an e-newsletter sign-up incentive, a 2009 Ceramic Arts Buyers Guide, and an incentive to click through after receiving the welcome e-mail, a copy of 7 Great Pottery Projects. The site that sends targeted communications and offers sees up to 26 percent clickthrough rates on e-mails.
Marketers can use customer profile information from multiple channels to, for instance, track in-store behavior and allow retailers to send an e-mail offer of a red purse to an in-store red shoe buyer, says Kristin Hambelton, senior director of marketing for French enterprise marketing software provider Neolane. Hambelton works in Neolane's Newton, Mass.-based U.S. headquarters.
One client, the U.K. wedding and special occasion business Confetti, personalized e-mails individually with such information. In 2008, right after moving to this approach, Confetti achieved an open rate of 33 percent, a clickthrough rate of 10 percent and a conversion rate of 1.3 percent. The average order value rose 85 percent, she adds.
If, in the opt-in form, e-mail marketers haven't asked subscribers about their preferences and demographics, marketers also can track the links recipients click on and then segment accordingly, Silverpop's McDonald says.
Mabley adds that abandoned shopping carts and highly visited spots on the Web site can provide the same level of detail for segmentation.
Some may even use the history as the campaign itself. McDonald says Diapers.com created an entire shopping cart abandonment campaign, e-mailing parents, "We know how hectic life with a baby can be! If you'd like to come back and complete your purchase, simply click, 'View Cart.'" In May 2008, the campaign generated 78 percent higher clickthrough rates than previous campaigns, 129 percent higher conversions and 10.4 percent of the total e-mail marketing revenue for that month.
E-mail marketers need to research their subscribers in more ways than that, says Stephanie Miller, vice president of global market development at New York-based Return Path, an e-mail performance management company.
"Where do they get information?" she asks. "Who do they trust? What kind of information do they look for? [E-mail marketers should be] looking at social forums, news outlets, Facebook, Twitter, that kind of stuff. So if your customers are in those locations, you need to be there, too."
3. Don't forget to test.
McDonald says simply tracking clickthrough rates by domain can diagnose problems. For instance, if AOL has much lower clickthrough rates than Yahoo, MSN, Hotmail and Gmail, it may mean links aren't appearing correctly in AOL accounts.
Along those lines, Miller says it's important to ask customers for feedback, which alerts marketers to changes they can make, keeps the dialog going with consumers and increases clickthrough rates—especially if it's a survey.
4. Old-fashioned standards still apply.
McDonald says list quality, a compelling offer, strong creative and audience match, complete with correct channel based on preference, are still important to clickthrough.
So it's important to pay attention to how these aspects of e-mail marketing are evolving. For instance, creatives need to know that some domains feature e-mail "preview panes," where recipients can see only the top half of an e-mail. That's where the clickthrough needs to be, he says.
Hambelton says other channels—mobile and direct mail, for instance—can rescue a campaign if recipients don't click through the first time.