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Boosting Your Click Rate

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by: Arthur Hughes (@IBMforMarketing)
05 January 2012

Despite the attention many marketers pay to open rates, the only real proof that your email is getting your subscribers’ attention is when they click on a link within the email after opening it. Clicks are the true measure of whether anyone is actually reading your emails and thinking about what you’re trying to say to them — they’re the opening step in the sales process. This graph, taken from my new book Strategic Database Marketing 4th Edition (McGraw-Hill 2012), shows the percentage of those who have opened their emails who have clicked on a link.

As you can see, the average click rate is about 25 percent, which means that, on average, only about 3.75 percent of all regular commercial emails are clicked on (15 percent average open rate times 25 percent). This is nothing to worry about since emails are very inexpensive to send (roughly $4 per thousand or $0.004 each) compared to about $0.50 per direct mail letter. But while you don’t need to worry about the emails that don’t get opened or clicked on from a cost standpoint, you do need to worry about where your emails stand on this graph.

I worked recently with a well-known and highly successful company that had several hundred thousand email subscribers. Their open rate was greater than 20 percent, but their click rate per opened email was about 7 percent — near the bottom of the graph. What was wrong? The emails were obviously not interesting enough to subscribers to get them to read them. This meant, of course, that their emails were not getting thousands of their subscribers to buy what they were selling.

This graph is a wake-up call: Increase the click rate, and you stop leaving money on the table. But how can you boost click rates? There are many ways, but they can all be summarized in one phrase from Gary Stein, iCrossing’s SVP of strategy and planning: “Every click is a wish” — a wish for something interesting, new or exciting to happen.

To make that happen, you have to get into the brains of your subscribers and figure out what will turn them on. You can find this out by testing, or you can do what customer experience management consultant Shaun Smith said: “Customers want to be surprised and delighted. And to surprise and delight someone, you don’t ask them, ‘What can we do to surprise and delight you?’” You have to be creative. I have several suggestions:

1) Use video in your emails. A 2011 Forrester report indicated that video can double or triple email marketing click-through rates. To do this, use an enticing visual from the video prompting your readers to click and view. Keep in mind that thumbnail images are usually clicked on more often than a text link. (Download our Webinar on best practices for incorporating video into email.)

2) Use personalization. Emails that use the sender’s name and relevant data will improve click rates. Such emails seem like a personal letter to the reader. Ideally, the “letter writer” should personally “sign” the email and — if possible— provide a photo. Really good personalized content will send click rates through the roof.

3) Use creative flash. If you have something interesting to say, make it clear to the reader by a creative flash message that can’t be ignored.

4) Use extensive A/B Testing. Piccadilly tested two email creative possibilities for its Easter campaign and discovered that its second image/call to action option yielded an 8 times higher conversion rate.

5) Start sentences, but don't finish them. Accommodate a recipient's predilection for scanning by creating teaser paragraphs and provide a link to the rest of information.

6) Add a question mark? Marketing blogger Justin Brooke suggests that adding a question mark to a link can double the click rate. It forces the brain to read the statement as though it were a question.

Think and experiment. You have to be constantly at it, but whatever your click rate is now, it can be improved. Your job? Get busy.


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