Quick Wins For Email Marketers In 2015

Going into the new year, instead of focusing on the new, let’s focus on the easy. Here are my picks for low-effort/high-return initiatives for email marketers in 2015:

Optimize your snippet text. You would never leave your subject line to chance, or be careless with your sender name. However, most marketers don’t fully optimize their snippet text, the sometimes third element of envelope content along with your sender name and subject line. It’s like a second subject line since it appears after the subject line in the inbox view of many email clients like the native iPhone email app, Gmail, and Yahoo Mail.

Recent research on snippet text found that only 47% of B2C brands fully optimized their snippet text so that it works hand-in-hand with their subject lines. Forty-one percent didn’t optimize their snippet text at all, allowing URL gibberish and administrative preheader text to appear; and another 13% poorly optimized it by using static text, including brand name and tagline.



By using visible or invisible preheader text, it’s easy to optimize your snippet text and make your emails more compelling to open and engage with.       

Implement predictive intelligence for personalized recommendations. While not low-effort in all cases, this idea is high-return in most cases, so the effort-to-reward ratio is very favorable. This is a great way to harness the big data of customer behavior on both the individual and aggregate level, turning it into product, content, and other recommendations.

Adding PI-powered recommendations to broadcast emails makes them less “one size fits all.” But this tool really shines in triggered and transactional emails, which are already one-to-one in nature.

Add defensive design elements to your email templates. Even though Gmail now enables images by default, image-blocking is still quite prevalent. Using HTML text where you can, instead of imbedding text in an image, is wise because it allows you to communicate your message even when images are blocked.

In particular, consider replacing your graphical buttons with “bulletproof buttons,” where HTML text is floated grid cells with background colors.

Test special characters in your subject lines. A little gimmicky? Maybe. Silly? Some executions are definitely more thoughtful than others.

But whether you’re talking about blog posts or just about anything else in the marketing realm, adding an image generally makes it more effective. Special characters are the images of subject lines. If you haven’t A/B tested them yet, give it a try.

Expand your A/B testing beyond subject lines. ESPs have made it super-easy to test subject lines, and as a consequence they are the most tested email element. However, it’s also pretty simple to test other elements of your emails. Try testing different hero images, copy, and calls-to-action.

Selectively remarket to non-openers. Sending more email to the right subscribers is a proven winning tactic. Resending an email — with a new subject line — to active subscribers who didn’t open it the first time can be an easy way to increase email revenue.

Just be sure to monitor your negative metrics to ensure that you’re not overdoing it and irritating your subscribers with the additional emails.

Add the opt-down option to your unsubscribe page or preference center. “You send me too many emails” is consistently one of the top two reasons that people unsubscribe (along with “your emails aren’t relevant to me”). You can significantly increase retention by allowing subscribers to select to receive emails at a lower frequency. Higher retention equals less list churn equals a larger, more engaged list.

Re-permission your chronically inactive subscribers. No marketer wants to see their list size shrink, but keeping chronically inactive subscribers on your list represents an increasing risk to your deliverability. Send a series of three re-permission emails to your subscribers who haven’t opened or clicked an email in the last 25 months, and remove those who don’t reaffirm their permission.

I consider 25 months of inactivity to be the outer bounds of what’s potentially safe for the average-volume sender, so that’s a good place to start. Re-permission at that threshold, monitor the impact on deliverability and revenue, and then narrow the threshold further if the results are favorable. Repeat until satisfied.

For the vast majority of high-volume senders, 25 months will be well past the danger point. Many of these senders find that inactivity in excess of 13, nine or six months, or even less, result in depressed deliverability.

Take inventory of and review your triggered emails. It’s easy to lose track of your triggered email programs, but it’s important to review them regularly not only for optimization purposes, but for quality assurance reasons as well. Triggered email programs have the unfortunate reputation for being “set and forget,” when they’re really “review and renew” programs.

The turn of the calendar is a great time to chase down all your triggered emails, take inventory, note the last time they were updated, and look for opportunities to improve them. For instance

  • Consider adding (and perhaps now removing) seasonal messaging.
  • Look for ways to add personalization.
  • Consider turning a single triggered email into a series in all or just some circumstances.
  • Make sure that each triggered email has your current logo, navigation bar, social media bar, and administrative links.
  • Ensure that none of the links in these emails have become broken over time.
  • Check that your copyright dates are up to date now that the calendar has flipped.

After you’ve taken inventory and assessed your opportunities, plan on doing this every three to six months. Triggered emails programs are incredibly productive and deserve regular attention.

Add these low-hanging fruit opportunities to your list of email marketing New Year’s resolutions to ensure that your email program gets off to a strong start in 2015.
8 comments about "Quick Wins For Email Marketers In 2015".
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  1. Bill Kaplan from FreshAddress, Inc., December 29, 2014 at 6:09 p.m.

    Nice overview, Chad, but 25 months of inactivity is way too excessive. Most marketers should use 3 to 6 months as a threshold here and, as ISPs continue to focus more on engagement, this threshold needs to get tighter and tighter.

    After all, who wants to spend marketing dollars on someone who hasn't opened an email in six months anyway? Chances are these customers/donors/members probably switched their email addresses, as ~20% to 30% do each year, so sending to accounts no one is reading is not going to generate anything.

    The low-hanging fruit opportunity here is to perform regular ECOA (Email Change of Address) services to your bounces and inactives so that you can reconnect with these customers at their current, preferred email addresses.

    For more details on how leading marketers and nonprofits keep their email databases up-to-date and maximize the return on their marketing investments, see

  2. Chad White from Litmus, December 29, 2014 at 6:57 p.m.

    Like I said, 25 months is the outer limit and that you should work back from there to the shorter time frame that's appropriate for your brand's audience and practices.

    Respectfully, I never recommend ECOA. I consider it a violation of privacy and of permission. Never doing ECOA is one of the 11 never-break rules in my book.

  3. Abby Bandel from Barilliance, December 30, 2014 at 12:07 p.m.

    When it comes to cart abandonment emails, another way to personalized the emails is to include in the subject line the product abandoned in the cart (only products in stock will be presented). Also, use tools like Barilliance to include dynamic product recommendations in the triggered emails. The dynamic personalized product recommendations are presented in real time, when the email is opened– not when the campaign is sent out. This unique approach allows the system to constantly optimize the recommendations during the campaign.

  4. Bill Kaplan from FreshAddress, Inc., December 30, 2014 at 12:39 p.m.

    Chad - It would be worth your learning more about ECOA services. FreshAddress performs our patented ECOA services only for our clients' opt-in customers/donors, matches only against 100% self-registered opt-in change data, and sends an opt-in permission message to the current, preferred email addresses of our clients' customers/donors to ensure their interest in continuing to receive the email communications they signed up for.

    This is a win/win for marketers and consumers alike as it enables consumers to retain those relationships they wish to retain despite an email address change while allowing marketers to reconnect with customers otherwise lost by email changes, which occur on the order of 25%-30% per year.

    Companies that are not performing ECOA services on their bouncing and inactive email address files are leaving millions of dollars on the table, throwing away their original marketing investments in customer acquisition.

  5. Chad White from Litmus, December 30, 2014 at 1:39 p.m.

    Bill, I appreciate the changes that FreshAddress has made to its ECOA service over the years in response to pressure from privacy and permission advocates, but I still believe that it fundamentally violates privacy and permission. Perhaps I'll write a future column on why I think it's an unwise business practice and has a dim future in a subscriber-centric world (vs. a marketer-centric one). For the time being, let's agree to disagree.

  6. Bill Kaplan from FreshAddress, Inc., December 30, 2014 at 2:58 p.m.

    With well over 100 million self-registered, permissioned change pairs (i.e. old and new email addresses linked together) in our ECOA database, that's a lot of people who have voted for the benefit of the service from a consumer level.

    As you know, FreshAddress has always been at the forefront of privacy and permission practices. To that end, we are the only company in our industry that deploys an opt-in ECOA confirmation email on behalf of our clients as part of our services, and we have been doing this for years.

    We have never believed that there are two worlds as you indicate, "a subscriber-centric world and a marketer-centric one." We believe that marketers/nonprofits can be most successful by serving their customers/donors in every way possible, honoring their privacy and permission desires while reaching them through the channels they request. Hopefully, that's something we can agree to agree on. Happy New Year!

  7. Andrew Kordek from Trendline Interactive, December 30, 2014 at 7:53 p.m.

    Chad: Nice article but I think you are grossly underestimating the level of effort in most cases around implementing a predictive intelligence solution. You did reference in the article that its not low effort in all cases but I would challenge that and say that its not a low effort in most cases. A substantial portion of many organizations today are having issues harnessing this "big data" you speak of and it certainly should not be labeled as a "quick win" for 2015. I completely agree with you that a predictive intelligence solution can be a game changer for some companies, but I think we should reset expectations with the readership of this article that this sometimes can be a massive undertaking for many companies. Happy New Year!

  8. Chad White from Litmus, December 30, 2014 at 10:15 p.m.

    Hi, Andrew. Happy New Year! Yes, admittedly, implementing predictive intelligence can be challenging for some companies. I worked with some of our consultants on compiling this list and a few did take issue with calling PI a quick win, although I do believe it fits the "low-effort/high-return" billing. One argued: "The ease of implementation depends on the complexity of the retailer. It makes such a dramatic difference in revenue, it’s probably worth keeping in." So I did. But your point, Andrew, is well taken.

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