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Far from being dead, email marketing remains one of the most effective lead-generation strategies – offering a very high ROI – and should be incorporated into every company’s marketing strategy. Yet many companies struggle and give up after a few failed attempts or continue using approaches that generate low response rates.  Here are 5 things to avoid and proven strategies for improving your open and response rates:

1. Off-putting subject lines

A strong subject line should not only compel readers to open the email but also deliver what is promised and provide value.

This means avoid spammy, click-bait subject lines. Yes, using such tactics may result in a high open rate but the click-through to your offer, landing page or website will drop off dramatically – more important, it will damage any trust. More than likely, they will unsubscribe from your email list.

So, craft a subject line that fulfils the promises made in the actual email. You can add some urgency if there is an actual time limitation and adding an element of mystery by failing to disclose all the details in the subject line can be effective as can special, time sensitive offers – but make sure you can back up the promise of the subject line in the email.

2. Bland, impersonal and soulless content

The tone of the email and – ideally – the visuals need to be infused with a strong, clear brand voice. Quirky and creative is good and, by standing out, can capture attention – as long as it matches the tone and identity of your brand (which should resonate with your target audience).

Keep the content light and conversation and lead towards personalisation – overly formal and rigid use of language will dehumanise your offering and fail to evoke strong, useful emotions in your audience. On a similar note, don’t overdo the visual content (a 80:20 text to image ratio works best) and ensure it is part of the body text (as attachments trigger spam filters) – some users cannot view images inside email so cater for both audiences.

Variety is key – given the number of emails we all receive daily – and strong visuals work to draw people in. As the percentage of all internet traffic is set to reach 80% within six months, it may be high time to start using video – best practices include using the word ‘video’ in the subject line, directly embedding it, using an eye-catching thumbnail.

Equally, as mobile traffic accounts for 40% of all web traffic, make sure your emails are designed responsively so that they are formatted correctly across a variety of devices – audiences can be pretty unforgiving and poorly formatted content is typically deleted within seconds!

3. Pointless Spam

While it is important to regularly reach out and engage your audience, blasting out messages just for the sake of it is a bad play: email marketing, particularly as part of a content-based strategy, is all about building trust through providing valuable insight and information. Sending out irrelevant fluff flies in the face of such a strategy – focus instead on understanding your audiences needs, questions, pain points etc., and address them directly by sending out content that offer practical information designed to help with actual issues they face.

So as soon as a reader opens your email, they should understand why they are receiving the email (they subscribed to your list or download a eBook etc), its value to them and how it will potentially benefit them. Always err on the side of caution and assume that your purpose is unclear – this particularly applies to CTA which should be both action and benefit orientated. They reader should clearly understand what action you want them to take and what the result will be.

4. Segmentation

Audiences are overwhelmed by the constant onslaught to spam content – resulting in emails being ignored, deleted or readers unsubscribing from the company sending them. Yet this is easily avoided – the most common reasons people unsubscribe are a) too many emails from the same company or b) irrelevant emails. So, rather than lazily blasting an entire email list with generic content, segment the list into broad groups with similar features (e.g., geography, demographic, behavioural etc) and then map relevant content to each group. Personalise the messages as much as possible within these segments and craft content useful and relevant to that group.

5. Sending from the ‘wrong’ email address!

Countless studies have shown that the primary reasons email are not opened is due to the sender’s name.  The practice of sending marketing communications from a dontreply@ has backfired spectacularly – it makes the communication seem unpersonal and uninviting and poor open rates reflect this.

The best practice is to send from an email that prospective clients can reply to and include other ways of contacting you or your company – the purpose here is open up dialogues and encourage communication! This one tweak could give you an incredible edge as up to 89% of emails campaigns are sent from a @dontreply email account.

The concern that first prompted use of dontreply@ – that the person named would be overwhelmed by spam or enquires is easily address: segment you lists better and only contact small, manageable numbers of potential buyers. Track which tactics perform best and only scale when you have hit upon a winning formula.

So to wrap up, the most salient advice is to test. Constantly. And then test some more. Then, when you have finished, try testing a bit. You get the picture: testing is essential as, ultimately, it is the results that provide the most useful, actionable and, mostly, objective feedback.  Have friends or colleagues check the spelling, how it is formatted on various devices, whether links, video or other contents loads or display correctly. Use software to A/B test variations on the messaging, images, subject lines etc., to see which variants get the best response rates (only change one variable per test so you can compare results accurately).

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