In this month’s Feature, we reflect on the unique value email brings to publishing programs today. In our new Digital Guide, we share 11 best practices for effective email newsletters, and in our new Question, we discuss the best time to publish. Finally, we’ve put together a handy reference on email metrics, and what to do with them. And throughout, we’ve included a sampling of our favorite daily email newsletters.
Favorite Emails: NiemanLab Daily Digest
Favorite Emails: Chicago Inno The Beat
If you have a lot of areas to cover, consider creating separate email newsletters tailored to individual audience segments.
For example, you might offer:
It helps users to provide a single sign-up page with the name, description, and check box for each newsletter option. Make it simple for subscribers to return to this page to update their subscriptions.
As part of the opt-in for each newsletter, describe what content you’ll be sending, and how frequently you’ll be sending it. Avoid default opt-ins, such as a pre-checked box on a contact form, and consider sending a confirmation email to make sure new subscribers intended to opt in.
Then honor that promise. Remember what readers signed up for in the first place, and deliver the goods. And make it easy to unsubscribe, so people can freely disengage if they lose interest.
Some email platforms will also show a preview snippet — the inbox shows the first 40-100 characters of the email. To take advantage of this space, open your email with welcoming text that will help drive an open. Whatever you do, don’t put administration messages, like “Having trouble viewing this email?” at the top of your messages.
Favorite Emails: Episodes
Instead of wrapping up the news of the day, Todd VanDerWerff’s daily email is just an essay — the kind of thing you’d find in a blog post but delivered via email. This isn’t going to be relevant to everyone, but he’s an astute pop culture observer and a flat-out good writer. Each edition is a treat in your Inbox.
In a 2014 study, email platform provider MailChimp analyzed data from their Email Genome Project to answer this question. Breaking down reach and engagement by day and time of day, they drew some broad conclusions:
So, in the broadest possible terms, the “best” time to send email is 10:00 a.m. on Thursday.
But digging deeper, MailChimp saw that results varied significantly based on certain demographic factors, like country, age, and occupation. Their key conclusion is that audience characteristics that affect daily routine can make a big difference. That stands to reason: The best time for you to open an email depends on how you go through your day.
If you’re publishing to a well-defined audience, and you have a good sense of their typical routine, make an educated guess of an optimal time and try it out. And if you’re publishing across multiple time zones, consider using a platform that lets you time your emails based on region.
Whatever time you pick initially, the most important thing is to track your metrics, pay attention to feedback, and experiment to find the best fit.
Favorite Emails: NextDraft
Delivery Rate: The percentage of sent emails that reach a recipient — that don’t bounce, in other words. A low delivery rate, especially anything below 90%, is a good nudge to clean up your distribution list.
Click-through rate: The percentage of recipients who click one of the links in the email. The standard for a “good” click-through rate depends on what content you’re sending and how you’re packaging it, but you can gauge the relative success of individual emails by comparing the click-through rate of each to your average. This is often the best indicator of your content’s value.
Conversion rate: The percentage of sent emails that led the recipient to take a desired action, such as completing a registration form or making a purchase.
Open rate: The percentage of recipients who opened the email. Open rate is typically tracked using a small, transparent image. When the email program requests the image, the image host server registers an open. The problem is many people have images disabled in their email programs, creating lots of false negatives.
List growth rate: The rate your total subscriber count has grown each month, expressed as a percentage of the previous count. For example, if you had 100 subscribers last month, you added 10 new subscribers this month, and you lost 5 subscribers to unsubscribes and hard bounces, you’d have a 5% list growth rate.
A flat or negative growth rate indicates you need to step up your email subscription promotion and give subscribers more reason to share.
Share rate: The rate recipients shared email content on social networks (when you have social sharing enabled). Like forward rate, this is a good indication of how content is resonating.
Unsubscribe rate: The percentage of recipients who unsubscribed when they received a particular email. Unsubscribes don’t capture everyone who stopped paying attention — people may ignore or delete you using filters instead. But an especially high unsubscribe rate on a specific newsletter is a good indication the content annoyed people in some way.
Complaint rate: The percentage of recipients who flagged an email as “spam” or “junk,” as reported by the email provider. In theory, a complaint indicates the recipient feels they shouldn’t be receiving the email, as opposed to an unsubscribe, which means they’ve just changed their mind. If your complaint rate creeps up to 1% or higher, take a look at your opt-in process to make sure expectations are clear, and reassess how often you send out email.
For more information about our team and approach, or to learn how we can help your organization with digital strategy, development and measurement, please visit the PNConnect site.
Mary Gaulke in Sarasota wrote this month’s Feature about the power of email, Chris Thilk in Chicago wrote the Question on optimal email timing, and Tom Harris in Raleigh wrote the Digital Guide on email best practices and the Glossary of key email metrics.