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February 19, 2015

Content marketing for ecommerce – emails

Using email marketing to boost sales through your website

In the first instalment of our new three-part series on content marketing for eCommerce, we looked at onsite content. This time we’re focusing on email marketing and how it can be optimised for your business.

The benefits of email marketing

The evidence in support of email marketing’s effectiveness is clear.

Sending out a well thought out and timed email can see sales increase. A study by the Direct Marketing Association found that 66% of people who received an email marketing message made a purchase or engaged with the brand as instigated by the sender, well ahead of alternatives such as direct mail and social media. In terms of conversion rates though, email marketing provider Dotmailer claims segmented and targeted emails have a 4% conversion rate from click, while automated lifecycle emails are higher with an 8% conversion rate from click. Effective abandoned cart messages can even see up to 10-20%, according to Bronto. Meanwhile, management consulting firm McKinsey & Company reported that email is 40x more effective at acquiring new clients than either Twitter or Facebook.

At a recent event, Bronto also flagged that customers who shop within the first 14 days of visiting a site have a much higher propensity to become loyal so if a circa 20% conversion rate on abandoned basket mails is not strong enough, then the argument that they will then also become loyal and return certainly helps.

However despite its huge potential as a marketing tool, it is often left unrealised. Too many online retailers only send promotional messages to their database intermittently, and often using a broad approach. With this in mind, we’ve provided our advice below on how best to utilise email marketing.

With a great strategy in place, sending emails can be a lucrative form of marketing for many businesses. According to eConsultancy for every £1 spent on email, around £24 is returned, making it achieve the second highest ROI of all digital marketing techniques, behind SEO.

Content is key

The subject line is probably the single most important part of your email.

But you don’t want to make it too focused on selling because that might discourage click-throughs, so instead try to focus on telling people what they’ll get by reading on. As the old adage goes, sometimes telling is more effective than selling.

In terms of the main body of your email, a popular strategy is to include a brief introduction in the form of a personalised message written (or ghost-written) by a senior and trusted figure within the business. This approach can work really well because it gives you the opportunity to draw together the various components of your email from offers and new product lines to competitions and blog posts, as well as inject some personality into your brand.

In terms of content, the e-mail will land best if it adds value. In both the body content and heading, put yourself in the customer’s shoes and think ‚ÄòWhat’s in it for me?’ What would make them click to open it? This could be money off a particular service or product or valuable advice on a topic of interest. For example, if you are a Bodybuilding supplements brand, potential customers may be keen to hear about the latest dietary advice or a new workout plan to get beach fit in four weeks.

That said, it’s important to continually offer a healthy balance of content, whether that’s price promotion or useful advice. Many people are turned off by constant offers and you equally could run the risk of only attracting deal junkies who won’t purchase full-priced products from your website because they know you will send them a deal in the next week or so.

When it comes to crafting the text of your emails, you need to be conscious that some words could be flagged up as spam by your internet service provider (ISP). Of course, quite a few businesses are already aware that words associated with adult content or aggressive selling tactics may fall foul of the filters. However, what many don’t realise is that even seemingly innocuous terms such as ‘opportunity’ or ‘potential’ can also be flagged up as spam.

As a result, terminology that comes with even the vaguest suggestion of spam should be avoided where possible. This is because if an ISP deems your email to be of poor quality, it may never get sent to customers in the first place. And even if it does get sent, the ISP will keep track of what proportion of your emails are opened – those with a very low ratio may be prevented from sending out further emails in future.

Ensuring you target the right people with the right content

The success or failure of an email marketing campaign will be to a large extent determined by the quality of the list that receives it.

As such, you should be continually on the lookout for new ways of encouraging users to sign up that go beyond simply including an ‘I would like to be kept up to date with the latest news and offers’ tick-box (or something similar) on your forms. Consumers are already bombarded with advertising from brands every day, which means you’ll have to be imaginative or offer them some sort of reward to persuade them to request messages from you too. Try offering discount codes for those who join the mailing list or promising them early access to the best deals.

Once users have expressed interest by signing up, it’s important to use this opportunity to find out what information they are interested in receiving so you can tailor your content. You can do this by simply sending them an email to ask about their interests. By obtaining this vital information and personalising your emails accordingly, users are far more likely to click through on future emails, purchase off the website, and perhaps even become brand advocates.

How can segmentation help me?

If you’re still sending out generic emails to your entire mailing list, it’s probably time to start segmenting.

All consumers are different so it doesn’t make sense to treat them as a single entity for the purposes of your email strategy. If one person spends all of their time on your website looking at cat food, it’s illogical to send them offers by email about dog food. Your conversion rates will be far higher if you instead send them cat food offers, especially if that’s accompanied by offers for other relevant products. Simple segmentation can be performed manually on even the most basic ESPs and segmenting your database in this way will make a huge difference to performance. On the flipside, if you fail to segment your customers and continue to send poorly targeted emails to your entire list, be prepared for a high churn rate.

The benefits of automation

If you’re not careful, email marketing can easily turn into a very labour-intensive process.

However, the good news is that there are some great technologies available which can make the medium far less labour intensive. ESPs such as Bronto and Dotmailer offer lots of automated features that can improve results while saving you a huge amount of time. In addition to this, they will help to ensure that you are delivering more engaging content which will illicit far better responses.

Segmentation is simple as it is about making the content as relevant as possible to the individual receiving it but it can take time. In contrast if you use an automated solution, you can make a huge number of different customised journeys tailored to what the recipient has done on your site quickly and efficiently. This in turn generally offers far greater returns – we have seen e-mail conversion rates increase in excess of 20% and e-mail revenues increase by over 220%.

A practical example of this in action is that you could create different journeys based on a user’s behaviour, for instance you can send one follow-up message to customers that did open a particular email and another to customers that didn’t. So for those that clicked through but didn’t buy anything, you could send an additional message featuring similar products in the hope that this time they’ll convert. And for those that didn’t click through, you could send them a different incentivised offer ‚Äì perhaps a discount code to reignite their interest.

Another useful feature that ESPs can offer to eCommerce businesses is the automated shopping cart abandonment email. This can be incredibly handy where a significant proportion of your visitors get to the basket stage but don’t then proceed to the payment stage. Abandonment emails can help you to revive potential transactions that have fallen by the wayside and in turn lead to more sales. Conversion rates for these e-mails can be much higher.

Data quality

Once you’ve started an email marketing campaign, it’s advisable to regularly review your list too. At the very least, this means removing email addresses that consistently bounce back when you send them messages.

On top of this, you need to be conscious of data protection rules. Buying ready-made lists from third parties or even mining your old customer databases for names is risky because these people are much more likely to report you for spam. And remember that you have to provide an unsubscribe option on all of your email marketing communications by law, so ensure you include a clear opt-out button. It’s generally best to put this in the footer of your messages.

How often should you email?

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to email frequency. That said, the key is to be led by analytics and your audience.

Consumers in certain businesses and sectors are far more receptive to getting regular marketing messages than others. For instance, subscribers to a high-fashion label might welcome frequent emails telling them what’s currently in Vogue, whereas those who have signed up to messages from say an antiques dealer might not expect quite the same level of communication.

The best way to find out how often to send your emails is to test different strategies and use available data to inform your judgement. Look at your current activity and change your approach gradually. If, for example, you’re sending out an email once a month and data suggests your audience is highly receptive to them, try testing emails to be sent out more frequently – perhaps once a fortnight.

Seasonality will play a big part in your email marketing plan too. Consumers tend to accept more advertising in the run-up to major holidays, so test upping your emails around that holiday period, to see if this has a positive effect. You just have to make sure that you don’t overdo it. Sending frequent emails more than a couple of times a week will annoy consumers and put people off.

Also, subscribers are likely to switch off pretty quickly if they feel your emails are too formulaic. Using analytics and data can help inform which types of emails work best with your target audience, and when conversion rate is delivered.

Throughout testing, however, it’s important to remember that you don’t want to antagonise your subscribers. As such, try out new ideas with smaller segments of your email database first rather than contacting the entire list immediately. This should still give you plenty of actionable data without leading to large numbers of unsubscribes if you don’t get things quite right to begin with. If you can tailor send times for best results with specific segments, even better. With Dotmailer or Bronto for example, you can tailor the send time for each recipient so this is optimised based on the individual’s responses.

Which email service provider is best?

There are lots of different email service providers (ESPs) available, but some will inevitably be better suited to your business than others.

Everything we’ve discussed in this blog, such as segmentation, can be done manually via one of the many widely used platforms on the market like MailChimp. However, a move to an automated ESP, such as Dotmailer or Bronto, can make email marketing much easier and will move it to the next level. For instance, they offer the ability to quickly and easily integrate with platforms such as Magento enabling you to efficiently define segments which will auto-populate when the users meet certain criteria. These will then automatically send an email or a series of emails to take the recipient down a specific customer journey.

Both of the aforementioned solutions also offer extremely user-friendly interfaces and responsive templated designs with dynamic content which will guarantee that your consumer has a good experience, regardless of the device they are consuming on. This is increasingly important as circa 49% of emails are now read on mobile devices according to Litmus. If traffic is high enough, they will often pay for themselves several times over. Interestingly, some of the higher end ESPs offer additional mobile focused services such as SMS messaging

Measuring success

A good ESP will be able to give you a wealth of information about the effectiveness of your email marketing campaigns.

While you’re putting the finishing touches to the content of your emails, for example, it will be able to estimate what percentage are likely to get through the spam filters of different platforms such as Gmail, Hotmail, Outlook and so on. What’s more, it will also give you a rough estimate of what proportion of recipients might then proceed to open the message. This is invaluable information and it often surprises eCommerce businesses to find that a few simple tweaks to the wording of a subject line can translate into thousands more consumers being exposed to your marketing.

As mentioned previously, you can also split-test messages to get a clearer understanding of what works and what doesn’t. Let’s say you’ve got a particular hypothesis about the tone of your introduction that you want to check to see if it delivers better results than your current approach. Using split-testing, you could send 2.5% of your customer base an email with one introduction, and another 2.5% an email with a different introduction, then see which one works best and send that version to the remaining 95 per cent.

Of course, your ESP can also be immensely useful once the email has been issued. It will tell you how many addresses within your mailing list actually received the email. Moreover, you can find out what number subsequently clicked through to read the message and where they headed after that.

If you get a large number of bounce-backs, this might indicate that your list needs cleaning up. Or if you have particularly low click-through rates, this might suggest that either your list is getting stale or your subject line is failing to capture the audience’s imagination.

Google Analytics will also be able to give you a wealth of information about your performance. To give just one example, you could use it to find out what proportion of your conversions can be traced back originally to a click-through from one of your email campaigns. If conversions shot up after one particular mailshot, that’s a good indicator that you were on the right track there. Perhaps the content of your message was particularly good, or the timing of the email was spot on, or your promotional offer was more attractive than usual. You can put all of these theories to the test in future campaigns.

Ultimately the key to a successful email marketing strategy is to test different techniques.

Analyse the results and refine your approach accordingly. By learning what works and what doesn’t, you’ll get a much better understanding of your customers and ultimately reap the rewards in the form of greater sales.

For the final post in our content marketing for eCommerce series, we’ll take a detailed look at the subject of outreach.