Can you improve your email open rates by better maintaining your subscriber list?
I do a lot of work in the area of social media - mainly twitter, facebook, linkedin and email.
Yes, I consider email to be the most basic form of social media. Anyone willing to share their email address with you wants to connect in a meaningful way. Whether a friend, colleague, jobseeker or salesperson, a shared email address is one way people confirm you as a valued connection worth building a relationship with.
There are many ways to improve open rates by improving your email content. But in relying on email software tools to manage our subscriber lists, have we added to the problems inherent in email open rate metrics?
Which brings me to my main point in this post.
I manage a respectable subscriber list for my organization's monthly email digest - around 15,000 subscribers. As we are not a membership organization, this is a sizeable list which been growing for nearly a decade. The digest itself has taken many different forms and used many different email software systems - some more effective than others.
The open rate is one important - and foundational - measure of any email send. How do email software systems know if an email has been opened? A small 1 pixel x 1 pixel graphic (generally invisible to the average person) is inserted into the email that you send and when this image is loaded the email is registered as opened.
The problem is that sometimes the image isn't loaded - this is particularly true for subscribers viewing your email via smart phones. Comm100 has a helpful post on the woes of measuring email open rates. So already you have inaccuracies in open rate metrics.
But I also think lack of proper management of email subscriber lists contributes to problems with open rate metrics. Sometimes we rely to heavily on the software to do the work for us. We need to think like gardeners tending our gardens. We need to seed, feed and weed our email lists.
Because subscriber lists are made up of individuals opting-in to your list, I felt it would be useful to get to know these folks better by seeing how well-connected they are with our organization. Basically, I've checked the subscriber list against institutional partner lists and our friends, fans, and followers via social media. The process and tools I've used to do this will be the subject of future posts.
As I've updated this list, I've noticed some issues which may impact my email open rate:
- duplicate email entries from different source lists (yes, there were several). The email system we use is supposed to cross-check email addresses and send only one email but, as we found out, not all email software systems actually do this effectively. So, if a email address gets duplicate emails but only opens one, is the open rate counted against all emails sent or just the email that was opened?
- single individuals receiving copies of the newsletter at multiple addresses (work and home). I've been able to match up multiple email addresses with single individuals. Unfortunately, the email systems I've worked with require separate entries for each email. So if one person receives emails at multiple email addresses, but only opens one email at one address that open rate is counted for that one email address only. It makes sense, but wouldn't it be great if one individual could designate two or more email addresses for one recordset? I'm seeing more of this capability, but we've got a long way to go. And this might add further confusion to the metrics.
- bounced emails. Whether a hard or soft bounce, these subscribers are often kept on the send list so as the number of bounced email increases, the open rate may decrease. So when should you remove these individuals from the list? You should remove someone with has a hard bounce sooner than later. But when do you remove those subscribers who have soft bounces? Dundeemail has a helpful post about bounced emails.
While many email software systems say they can maintain your subscriber base, there is nothing quite as valuable as personally reviewing and updating the list.
Though any open rate will not provide truly accurate numbers (you need to look at trends over time), I'm hoping that by better personally maintaining my subscriber list, I get a improve the open rate by:
- Removing multiple bounced emails for individuals who are not well-connected with our organization.
- Removing undeliverable/invalid emails or double-check that they are correct. In several cases I've noticed a error in the email address which I've been able to repair.
- Build up a social CRM (and perhaps a survey) methodology to identify those subscribers who are heavily active with us in the social media to determine if they are more likely or less likely to open our email digest.
I'm particularly interested in the social CRM side of things - the further down the social media rabbit hole I travel, the more I realize that we need better tools to help us understand our audiences and connections. I'm starting to see and use some of the free (and useful) tools available in the cloud, but I would like to hear from others.