Email Marketing Conversion Rate: What It Is and 10 Ways to Improve It

Email Marketing Conversion Rate: What It Is and 10 Ways to Improve It

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For most people, consumers and marketers alike, email marketing is an everyday part of life. For consumers, it’s one of the best ways to keep in touch with their favorite retailers or other companies. And for marketers, email is a great way to consistently reach out to the people who are interested in a brand. However, in our world, anything worth doing must have a positive return on investment. In some cases, of course, brand loyalty and other less tangible measures are used for email marketing ROI.

However, for many brands, the main point of email marketing is to generate sales. Even if it’s an indirect sales goal, this is always at the forefront of our minds. With that in mind, though, how do we express the effectiveness of our email marketing in building sales? In most cases, it’s the conversion rate. Understanding email marketing conversion rate, and how to improve it, is the focus of this article.

What is and How to Calculate Your Email Marketing Conversion Rate

The definition of an email marketing conversion rate is simple: the percentage of emails sent that result in the desired action. But from here, you can define a conversion in several different ways. Ecommerce sites usually track opens, click-throughs, and purchases. However, for a nonprofit, the open rate is likely to be much more important. People will often read several newsletters, for example, before contributing.

No matter what metric you choose to track as a conversion, however, the equation is the same: Divide the number of desired outcomes by the number of emails received. Then, multiply the result by 100. The result is expressed as a percentage.

What is a Good Email Marketing Conversion Rate?

Of course, it’s one thing to know your email marketing conversion rate, and another to understand what makes a good one. However, there’s no single number that describes success for everyone. The desired action affects a desirable rate, as does the industry and type of email. Also, keep in mind that these numbers are averages. You can still determine relative effectiveness by comparing your numbers across categories and over time.

Email Marketing Open and Click-Through Rates by Industry

First, you should know that the email marketing conversion rate varies by industry. According to one survey, the average email open rate across industries was just over 21%. However, this represents a significant variation between the top and bottom performers. On the low end, vitamin supplement-related emails had only a 15% open rate, while government agencies come in at just under 28%. Other top performers included religion and hobbies, both of which were over 25%.

For click-through rates, restaurants had the lowest score at 1.3%, and on the high end, it was hobbies at 5%. The average across industries was found to be 2.6%.

A similar survey by Get Response found an overall 22% open rate. Their top performer was a generic “nonprofits” category, at just over a 30% open rate. On the other end, “internet marketing” emails had an open rate of about 15%.  Click-through rates also had a significant swing. Travel was the lowest, with a 1.6% conversion rate, and publishing at 4.2, with an average of 2.1%.

With those numbers in mind, we can say that a good email marketing conversion rate is anything at or above the average. Of course, beating the average by a significant margin is always a great goal.

Further Reading: How to Improve Your Email Open Rate

Email Marketing Open, Click-Through, and Conversion Rates by Email Type

Of course, even within an industry, not all emails are created equal. Some types of email have a higher email marketing conversion rate than others. The Mail Chimp study cited above found some interesting trends in this area. For instance, emails with a personal touch tended to see a higher click-through rate. Catchy or interesting subject lines, likewise, are more likely to get the email opened. And, finally, emails with compelling content were most likely to get the desired rate. These standards, of course, vary by industry.

How to Increase your Email Marketing Conversion Rate

Of course, no matter your industry, getting a great email marketing conversion rate is as much an art as a science. After all, those things which appeal to one audience might be useless to another. With that said, so long as you re in tune with your audience there are several techniques that you can deploy in order to improve your overall marketing numbers.

Prune Your List

It’s great to have a large email list, but you need to maximize the effectiveness of that list. This means removing people who aren’t interested in what you have to say. Get in touch with those who have been inactive for a while, and ask if they are still interested. If not, then remove them from your list. Remember, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing: a children’s clothing brand, for example, can and should “lose” a customer when all the children in a family graduate to adult sizes.

Do this regularly to keep your list at a high-quality level. Although email marketing has a high return on investment, sending emails still has a modest per-email cost. Plus, these people who no longer find our content to be relevant automatically reduce your conversion rate, because they rarely if ever open the email, much less do anything else.

Segment Your List

Another technique for raising your email marketing conversion rate is list segmentation. According to Marketing Insider Group, segmented campaigns earn 760% more than non-segmented ones. When you break your email list into groups, you can send only the most relevant messages to each. This means, for instance, that if you have multiple product lines which target a different group of customers then you are only marketing the right lines to the right people.

You should segment from when people enter your list, but you can always segment based on their digital behavior or ask them their preferences through a survey. Segmenting based on behavior is a common technique: if you subscribe to emails through a pharmacy or grocery chain, for instance, they’ll often send you deals based on your shopping history. Alternatively, a personal care products company should segment based on traits like life stage or skin type.

Further Reading: How to Use Email Segmentation to Boost Marketing Conversions

Optimize the Frequency at Which You Send Emails

Not everyone wants to receive your communications all of the time. For instance, there are a lot of people who don’t shop in one place very often. Or for religious organizations, there are probably specific dates when people are more likely to attend services. At the same time, some members of the community will wish to attend every week.

These examples aside, the overall principle is simple. Increase frequency to your fans, decrease frequency to those who might prefer less frequent communication. Better yet, let your subscribers decide how often they want you to contact them by offering them that option. You’ll frequently see email marketers ask what a customer wants from emails in opt-in forms, and in email, links to change their subscription.

Mobile First Design

Marketing Insider Group did a study that showed that mobile design is important. For instance, they found that between 55 and 60% of emails are opened on a smartphone or tablet. Furthermore, their study showed that if an email isn’t mobile-friendly, then 70% of recipients will immediately delete it. This is true even if the email itself is well-designed for desktop or web-based viewing. Considering how many people use their smartphones for email, this probably isn’t a surprising statistic.

Master Your Subject Lines

Another insight from the Marketing Insider study is that subject lines are important. In fact, a whopping 47% of users decide whether or not to open an email based on the subject line. Of course, the intent of your email will have a significant influence on the subject line. For instance, if you are announcing an event or meeting time, it’s probably OK if the subject line is dry. On the other hand, an email announcing the event of a sale should be eye-catching. Your customers get several of these daily, so be compelling.

Personalize

Almost all organizations (96%) agree that personalizing your emails improves the email marketing conversion rate. This isn’t surprising when you consider that one of the oldest ways to gain a sale is knowing your customer by name. It worked back when towns were small, and it still is effective with small businesses. Personalized emails are an extension of this.

Sense of Urgency / Scarcity / Exclusivity

 Whatever information you provide or the campaign you run, utilize the time-tested concepts of urgency or scarcity to encourage action. The way in which you make the opportunity exclusive in some way depends on your immediate and long-term goals. For instance, if the campaign is solely for email subscribers, this might create an environment where readers will eagerly await, open, and convert your future emails. This is especially true with informational emails, such as newsletters.

On the other hand, an e-commerce site typically wants to sell something in the relatively short term. To that end, emails will talk about a promotion. These can be discounts, gifts with purchase, and free shipping, for example. Here, you want to ensure people understand that the offer isn’t going to be available for long. 

Your Call-to-Action MUST be Attractive and Provide VALUE

This goes without saying. 10% off might be HUGE for you, but not necessarily for a prospective buyer. Among other things, an attractive or valuable offer depends on your profit margins, the amount of competition, and demand for those products. When it comes to something like a percentage off or similar offer, being competitive with other brands is important.

There are, however, situations where your CTA doesn’t provide something of monetary value. For instance, a nonprofit that’s offering a newsletter provides the value of telling supporters about the latest activities. Here, it’s more than talking about what matters to an organization’s constituency. Rather, it’s the added convenience of those people not needing to track down the information. A lot of busy people won’t do that.

Use an Attractive and Dedicated Landing Page

Make it easy for the prospect to take advantage of your offer through an attractive and dedicated landing page. This can be a simple subscription page, such as with a nonprofit or corporate newsletter. Or, it can be more details on the special offer that a company is offering to customers. The page should be tailored to the specific deal or other desired action, rather than something general.

There’s more to this, though than mere consistency. You don’t want people to arrive at the landing page, then wonder if they’re in the wrong place. This would frequently result in people leaving before you get the desired result. For this reason, a great landing page is a key to improving your email marketing conversion rate.

Get into the Habit of A/B Testing

It’s impossible to get everything right the first time, so get into the habit of always a/b testing the above elements to optimize your email marketing conversion rate. For our purposes, this is the practice of testing two alternative pieces of content to see which one performs better. So, you could have two versions of an email that will be sent to the same segment of your email list. Then, you track which version performs better. 

Once you get the raw information from your a/b test, you can draw conclusions on what is more effective. It could be that a group of shoppers prefers a gift with purchase over an across-the-board discount, for instance. Finally, keep in mind that some email clients allow a degree of a/b testing without actually sending out the emails.

Improving your email marketing conversion rate isn’t necessarily as tough as you think. As with many other things in marketing, getting results is more of an art than a science. However, knowing the numbers to beat does help you set realistic targets. Finally, following the email marketing tips in this article will help you on your way to success.

Hero photo by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash

This article will guide you on how to increase your email marketing conversion rate & boost revenue with these 10 proven email marketing tips
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Neal Schaffer
Neal Schaffer is a leading authority on helping businesses through their digital transformation of sales and marketing through consulting, training, and helping enterprises large and small develop and execute on social media marketing strategy, influencer marketing, and social selling initiatives. President of the social media agency PDCA Social, Neal also teaches digital media to executives at Rutgers University, the Irish Management Institute (Ireland), and the University of Jyvaskyla (Finland). Fluent in Japanese and Mandarin Chinese, Neal is a popular keynote speaker and has been invited to speak about digital media on four continents in a dozen countries. He is also the author of 3 books on social media, including Maximize Your Social (Wiley), and in late 2019 will publish his 4th book, The Business of Influence (HarperCollins), on educating the market on the why and how every business should leverage the potential of influencer marketing. Neal resides in Irvine, California but also frequently travels to Japan.
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