This article is a must-read if you’ve been mesmerized by industry-shuttering email open rates smeared all over your Linkedin feed.
With more brands and creators trying to get their followers off of social media and onto a platform they own, please remember:
Open rates are (mostly) a vanity metric, and have never been a reliable stat. More clicks, conversions and conversations, however, are (usually) the metrics to care about.
It’s also an in-depth analysis of my own email list growth and performance optimization, and a peek into the strategic work I do for myself and my clients.
But before we dive in, 3 very important notes:
If you are my subscriber and a part of my ethical squad, I want you to know that you are anything but a number to me. You are a wonderful and curious human being, and I respect you more than you’ll ever know.
My success is only possible thanks to your trust in me, week in and week out, and it’s as every part yours as it is mine. From the bottom of my (now) pastaless stomach - Thank you.
2. Before you say anything about it - the list size doesn’t matter. This approach is relevant whether you have 100 people or 20 million people on your list, because:
Every subscriber is a human being who showed interest in hearing from you
They have wants, desires and needs
And it’s your job as the list manager and/or brand owner to cater to your subscribers’ needs with your solution, and use email marketing as a tool for nurturing 1:1:many conversations.
3. Some of you may read this and think: “it’s just a matter of shortening email length + increasing links”. And while there’s some truth to it, that’s a small part of the whole story.
Increasing click rates this dramatically in such a short time span while increasing the list size is a result of a creative and strategic planning and testing process, which I do both for my own list and my clients’.
And now, the main event:
Just before 2023 started, I looked at my email stats and the plans and goals I had for it moving forward, and realized:
Open rates were smashing, about twice the industry standards. I wanted to (at least) keep them that way.
Click rates were good, better than industry standards, but I wanted them to be much much better.
I wanted to get more replies, of any kind.
My newsletters were jam-packed with value but too long.
Offering value came at the expense of brand personality, which I wasn’t happy with.
The main areas I wanted to focus on were:
Making my emails more interactive and improving my CTR
Shortening my emails, while still offering so much value it’s ridiculous
Being more strategic and intentional with my content creation and repurposing
Luckily, I’ve been having Schmoozing Sessions with my subscribers every month for a while now, so I had insights into what they want to read from me next, and how.
Here are the 5 things I did to achieve that:
Slashed the length of my emails by at least half:
I’m a firm believer in providing copious amounts of value to your reader with every email you send.
Up until recently, I was writing a weekly long-form piece of content specifically and exclusively for my subscribers, and shared it in the email body itself.
But here’s the thing: even though I included useful and entertaining links in my emails before, the majority of readers didn’t get to them. In other words, I suspected that I lost my readers mid-email (or before that) because of the email length.
My new hypothesis was: “not everyone wants to learn from me every single week, and not specifically in their inbox”.
If the inbox isn’t the place where my readers want to enrich their knowledge about ethical email marketing, I was determined to find another way for them to do so if they choose to.
Where do you go when you want to deepen your knowledge on a topic? That’s right, a blog.
So these days, I still write my long-form piece of content, post it as a blog post, and link to it in my emails.
That creates a win-win situation for everyone:
The emails are significantly shorter
But those who are interested in learning more get their weekly ethical lesson
And I can see who is more interested in those, and which topics are more popular than others
I drive organic traffic to my website weekly
Which helps me experiment with website’s user experience
It also means that I don’t have to work harder and repurpose every email into a blog post later on
And writing a weekly long-form post also helps my website with some SEO
On top of it all, I still repurpose every long-form post like that into weekly content here on Linkedin, as I shared before.
So now, my newsletter looks and feels very different - each one includes 3 main parts:
A teaser for the educational blog post
Personal updates + photos
Cryptic poll of the week
If my previous newsletters took about 4-5 minutes to read, now my newsletters don’t pass the 2-minute mark.
Introduced my weekly cryptic poll:
Email doesn’t live in a vacuum, and it’s only a small part of your customer experience.
The truth of the matter is - it’s very hard for us to reply to an email. But it’s much easier for us to engage with content on social media, especially if all it requires from us is a click.
Knowing this psychological trick, the weekly poll gets my subscribers off social media - into their inboxes - and back to social media. Then, a week later, they get to see the results in their inboxes again.
It’s a gamification technique that helps me, as a brand owner, to:
Remind my existing subscribers every week to look for my email in their inboxes, read it, click, and come back to the poll (increasing engagement, opens and clicks - and deliverability too)
Create ethical FOMO for Linkedin followers who see the poll but are not yet my subscribers (it’s very hard to answer the poll if you don’t read the context first!)
Nurture a stronger sense of community for my subscribers (every vote matters and affects my subscribers’ future user experience)
Thanks to it, I get messages like the following across multiple platforms weekly:
More personality, more engagement opportunities, and more personal connection:
The Schmoozing Sessions and past campaigns taught me that my readers want to learn from me and read my perspective on ethical email marketing, but they also want to get to know the person behind the emails better.
Thanks to the new newsletter formatting, the different sections give my subscribers many more opportunities to engage with me and learn from me, but also decide how to spend their time better without making any compromises.
Upping the engagement like that is a win-win situation in itself:
My subscribers get more value and more personal connection
They choose their own adventure every single week (which leads to an increase in trust)
In the long term, my hypothesis is that such engagement and trust would play in my favor when it comes to launch/sales emails.
The fact that I started slowmading (slow nomading) in early February also gives me plenty of options to update my readers and connect with them on a much more personal level.
I also switched things around, length-wise: the educational section in the email body itself every week is the shortest - the personal bits are now the longest ones.
In addition, I started adding more fun and using more open loops in my emails - mostly right above my new signoff (which my subscribers also had the power to decide on!).
That link alone before my signoff last week got a 2.88% click-through rate (when most emails in my industry get average clicks of 1.8%-2.7% as a whole).
Aside from that, I allowed myself to bring out more of my “chutzpah”. I believe this is one of the reasons why some people choose to leave my list now - but I’m not worried about that.
Another point worth mentioning is this: it’s the emotional connection that your subscriber has with your brand that makes them open your emails - not necessarily how great your subject/preview line is...
But a bit of experimentation to grab attention in the inbox couldn’t hurt!
So I’m more experimental with the “from” name - the same newsletter mentioned here wasn’t sent from “Yuval Ackerman”, but from “Yuval | Ethical emails & pasta”.
All that to say that regardless of your brand type, your subscribers want an emotional connection, they want to have fun when they’re in their inboxes, and a strong brand voice + providing value is a winner every single time.
Set expectations for new subscribers early on:
You can’t ignore the fact that this segment of my list grew significantly in those two months (+48.57%), without spending a cent on any paid ads or promotions.
And still, I kept my open rates at around 40-50%, and clicks have been increasing in the past two months (In those two months, other emails had 3.55%, 4.95%, 5.43% and 9.06% CTR, not necessarily in that order).
My hypothesis is that my own email onboarding experience trains my new subscribers to engage with my emails right from the moment they join (as to writing this article, my current welcome sequence has an average of 81.1% open rate and 36.71% CTR for a total of 9 emails).
The fact that I set expectations early on enhances the trust, which helped increase my CTR in those two months, once new subscribers finished their onboarding and joined the weekly newsletters.
Deep analysis of every email’s stats:
As an email marketer, I’m obsessed with how my email campaigns perform.
Yup, I’m talking about checking my Email Service Provider about 10 times a day (if not more), checking who clicked on what, and then going to check the heatmaps of my website to see what has been going on there.
Every data point serves me further in understanding my subscribers’ wants and needs, and how I can cater to them better in the next newsletter I send.
For example, sharing more photos of my traveling in the email body gets me more replies.
Or - the more cryptic I made my polls, the more opens and clicks I got.
On the other hand, I’ve noticed that my subscribers are either not as interested in musical playlists, or the copy that led to those could’ve been better.
And that’s just the tip of the (strategic analysis) iceberg.
It’s important to note that experimentation does take time, especially when you introduce new formats/ways to engage with your emails, etc.
With my own list, I have the liberty to decide when to start experimenting with a new feature/type of links or content, and when to stop. Not the same sitch with clients, though, they may have a higher or lower tolerance for experimentation depending on multiple constantly-moving parts of their business (list size, budgets, goals, priorities of different key figures in the company, etc.).
User experience, getting ongoing feedback, collecting zero-party data are key to your email eting success.
If your emails underperform and you have no time to dive into your ESP or crack the code to improving your subscribers’ retention, engagement and experience, I’m here for you.
Let me be the creative and strategic partner to your brand emails, so they nurture deeper relationships with your subscribers and sell more.