Hubspot Email Marketing Report reveals interesting contradictions

Hubspot has released its latest Email marketing report in partnership with Litmus. This is a state-of-the-union address on what’s happening in Email marketing, with plenty of real-world statistics based on a variety of sources including 500 million sent Emails.

The report held few surprises for me, but I was struck by the contradictions between self-reported preferences and real-world results.

For example, in the survey portion, 2/3 of respondents said they preferred Email messages that were mostly images rather than mostly text. But actual click-through rates show the opposite behavior in real life. Engagement tracks increasingly lower when there are more images. In fact, there’s nearly a one percent drop in clicks when even one image is used as compared to no image at all.

I strongly suspect that click throughs may be higher in text-only Emails because the kind of messages could be simpler, such as subscription confirmation messages. As well, we need to keep in mind the realities of branding. Even if clicks are lower in image-based Emails, there is a residual impact in brand impression that’s more valuable than measuring strictly click throughs. Print advertising has found for decades that favorable impressions of a brand, including long-term brand loyalty, is developed through ads that don’t rely on a response coupon to measure immediate engagement.

Email has to work smarter

Since 2011, there’s been a 10% increase in the number of people who said they “never” purchased a product or service from an Email message, dropping from 35% to 25%. That doesn’t mean Email is becoming less important, but that too many marketers have not adjusted their approach to respond to consumer attitudes and expectations. For example, there are still far too many Email messages that look terrible on mobile devices, requiring users to zoom in and then scroll from side to side just to read the text. With upwards of 50% of users seeing the message on mobile devices, this is a tragic lack of customer respect by marketers and they deserve to lose this audience if they fail to take these realities into account.

There are still far too many Email messages that look terrible on mobile devices, requiring users to zoom in and then scroll from side to side just to read the text.

The good news is that 75% of people are still buying products and services as a direct result of information provided in Email messages. Marketers need to get with the program and make sure their messages are doing the job to take advantage of this potential.

Fewer people are reading as much of the Email messages they receive, so marketers need to keep messages shorter and on-target with specifics that matter to the consumer. Avoid putting too much in the Email; leave that to the link you point to in your Email message.

Filters are big

I was surprised to see that a majority of people are now filtering their Email messages through rules and other forms of automation. In my experience, many people are still struggling to understand what a “menu bar” is, so the report that 25% of gmail users were applying the service’s Priority InBox feature caught me by surprise. 54% of respondents in general said they use some kind of Email filtering.

Another surprise was that more than half of survey respondents said they used a separate or even fake Email address when registering for things that might produce spam, such as squeeze pages that offer a free product or download if you register your Email address. I knew people were doing this, but didn’t expect the number to be so high. In general, I’ve been finding squeeze pages to be less effective than before and have already resorted to alternate approaches that are improving opt-ins. Marketers may want to consider double opt-in, a practice that went out of style for a time. There’s no point in sending your messages to special addresses set up just for commercial messaging. Your bounce rate will be too high, costing you money with each mailing and leading to inaccurate subscriber counts.

In our over communicated world, people are looking for ways to streamline their lives and become more efficient. Marketers need to understand and respect that to maximize the impact they’re making.

Consumers are getting more savvy about taking action when they receive unwanted messages. An increasing number are deleting the message or clicking the Unsubscribe button rather than reporting it as spam. This is comforting indeed. False spam reports have plagued marketers for ages, as even legitimate subscribers would sometimes report messages as spam, requiring marketers to go through a complex administrative process to prove that the person making the report had actually subscribed.

Changing technology

It’s certainly no surprise that an increasing number of people are reading Email on tablets and phones as compared to desktop computers. What is interesting is that consumers are not simply choosing one device over another. The same message is often read on multiple devices. In fact, other results (aside from this Hubspot report) have found that most engagement takes place on the second viewing of a message, done on a different device. For example, people may first read the message on their phone, but then they will read it again on a desktop and that’s when they click the button to make their purchase. This is pretty significant for marketers. Make sure your message looks great on all platforms, perhaps incorporating additional details on your desktop version that can make the buying decision easier.

Message timing

Saturday remains the most effective day for people to respond to Email messages, but the difference between that and other days of the week isn’t huge with the exception of Tuesdays. The larger the list, the less of a difference was observed. With smaller lists, there’s a full 3% drop between Saturdays and Tuesdays, so marketers would be wise to avoid that second day of the work week for their messaging.

Hubspot observed a huge difference between the number of messages sent on Saturdays and the open rates. Very few marketers were sending mail on that day, but open rates were dramatically higher. Definitely a lesson there for those in charge of digital marketing.

Effects of message content

The sweet spot for message length remains at around 350 characters, with a sharp drop above that. Likewise, subject lines above 30 characters in length also began to suffer open rates as length of the subject increased. The “Sent From” name should be the name of a real person to maximize open rates, using first and last name instead of a company name. Interestingly, subject lines that included the word “newsletter” were opened less often than those that didn’t. Including the recipient’s first name in the subject line did improve open rates, though personally I find that practice annoying and tend to ignore them more frequently myself because they seem so artificial. Still, the results are in so we should pay attention. Putting “you” in the subject line is also valuable, increasing open rates by as much as 3% on average. Putting “Thank You” wording also increased CTRs quite substantially, as did the word “Download.”

It seems that the word “Free” has run its course, but the fear that it gets messages stuck in spam filters is unfounded. Messages with that word in the subject had no increase in open rates of broadcast messages (such as newsletters) over other subject lines, but didn’t suffer for it either. I believe people are fed up with the common bait-and-switch tactics used these days that they no longer believe the word Free has much meaning in an Email message. However, the word is still very effective in one-to-one messaging.

Surprisingly, the word “Tomorrow” in the subject line had a very significant impact on open rates for one-to-one messages, increasing from 59% to 65%. Creating a sense of urgency has great value in general when using Email.

Head on over to Hubspot for your free copy of their Science of Email report

George Pytlik

George Pytlik has been involved in the advertising industry for over 30 years and designed his first website when the Internet was one year old. He was an internationally recognized speaker on advertising and branding and served on a number of communication committees at various times throughout his career, as well as writing a regular column for Marketing magazine.

No Comments

Post a Comment

For security, use of Google's reCAPTCHA service is required which is subject to the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.

I agree to these terms.