We launched our Marketing Minute email newsletter to make it easy for folks to subscribe to a weekly digest of local business marketing articles from the Dex Media blog. The newsletter is sent to an “opt-in” list of people who have signed up as subscribers and usually features eight items that link back to the blog. We’ve been doing this for over 2 years, and are really pleased with the traffic we generate for the blog and the Dex Media site. But every week is still an experiment in learning what our audience wants. Here are a few of our takeaways:
1. A/B testing is not like flipping a coin
We never send a newsletter without running a test on a sample of the audience, usually pitting one subject line against another, and then sending the winner out to the full list. But in our A/B testing, there’s never a wide margin between winner and loser. It’s probably in the nature of a newsletter subscriber that they’re more generally interested in what you have to say and less persuadable by one variant vs. another, as might be the case with sales pitch messages.
2. No age discrimination for content
Our top performing newsletter recently, by a factor of five, was “Dex Media’s Top Posts of 2014”, our first newsletter of 2015. In other words, our most-clicked newsletter was a collection of the most popular posts from our blog. Well, duh, right? We, like most newsletter editors, tend to be biased toward what’s new for content, but sometimes golden oldies are still golden (updated, of course).
3. Don’t bury zombies too quickly
Conventional wisdom in sales-oriented email marketing says to quickly purge your list of recipients who aren’t engaged. But we have found that newsletter subscribers run on a different rhythm; they can go dormant for months, then wake up and start opening and clicking the newsletter. Probably it takes one good subject line to remind them why they subscribed in the first place. However, we do carefully segment “unengaged” subscribers and put them on a “nurture” messaging campaign to give them another nudge before eventually removing them from the list.
4. Watch deliverability carefully—and sweat the small stuff
One major email service blocked delivery on a sizable chunk of our list while another major email service accepted all our send, 100%. Same newsletter, same opt-in list. Often it’s some tiny detail on the email provider’s checklist that you neglected. For instance, Yahoo! wants you to maintain a “feedback loop”, a dedicated email address to receive complaints from users clicking their spam button. Google wants to see an “Unsubscribe” link in the “from” line as it appears in your message. Do what they want to stay off their spam lists.
5. The first item is always the best performer but you still need a last item.
Our newsletter features a foursome of colorful images plus headlines at the top, and some plain text headlines at the bottom. In virtually every send, the most clicks go to the first item at the top left of the lineup, in other words, where everybody starts reading. We’re guessing that a big chunk of our audience is One and Doners—click on the first item and don’t come back. But a sizable number must also be Scrollers who range down and up the entire newsletter before choosing what to click, because a headline at the bottom will occasionally do as well as those in the topside foursome.
6. In the end, it’s all about great content
Here’s the #1 tip, trick, tactic and hack for success in email newsletters: Write about what your audience wants to know and know your stuff. Over time, they’ll notice and keep coming back for more.