Troubleshooting a floundering email program
Learn how to diagnose an email delivery issue for your small business
Marketing consultants are expensive and if you’re like most small business owners, you’re wearing many different hats from sales representative and IT to product developer and marketing head.
You’ve worked hard to collect emails for your small business and you’ve likely already spent time working in one of the email CRMs such as MailChimp or HubSpot or Constant Contact. If you haven’t, and your business email program is running through your personal Gmail, you can learn more about email CRMs here.
But what happens when you’re sending out emails to your small business’ customers through a CRM and you don’t think you’re getting opened?
How do I know if my open rate is good?
It’s really not that simple. There’s a lot that goes into determining the health of your email open rate (the number of people who open your email / the number of people you sent it to.) In most CRMs, you can log into the system and look at your results after the email was sent. It’s hard not to get excited, but try not to pay attention to the results for at least 24 hours. Many platforms put you in a queue and you won’t necessarily send immediately, plus there are endless reasons why it may take a day(s) for your customers to get to your email (work, kids, travel). Don’t take it personally.
So, you log into your system a few days after you sent your promotion email and you see that 13 percent of people who sent to opened your email. Is that good? It depends. For a small email list of very qualified people (friends, close relationships, repeat customers) you’d probably expect the open rate to be quite high (think 30-40 percent). But, if your email list was created through advertising, if it’s larger or if it’s an older list, 13 percent may actually be pretty good. Of course, there’s always steps you can take to improve (see below).
The best way to know whether your open rate is healthy or not is to compare it to industry benchmark data and your own historical data. Industry benchmarks can give you a good ballpark comparison. For example, if you run an accounting firm whether your services are directly connected to someone’s personal or business financials, you’d expect people to open those communications more frequently than perhaps an expensive shoe shop.
Why aren’t my emails getting opened?
Before we talk about email delivery issues, there are a few easier adjustments you can make. You can improve your email open rate by testing the following:
1. Subject line
The email subject line is your best opportunity to catch someone’s attention. Think about your own inbox, what are the emails you like to open? Likely ones with a bit of intrigue, a sale or timely offer. See these examples:
- Intrigue: We thought you’d never ask...
- Sale: 50% off all t-shirts and hats
- Timely: Today only! Free consultation
Even better, many CRMs will let you A/B test your subject lines against each other. A/B testing may sound intimidating, but it’s something you probably do in your life regularly. The last time you build a product prototype you probably asked a friend if they liked design A or B. Then, you probably asked a few more friends. Eventually, you surveyed a large enough group of people that you realized people prefered design B. Well, A/B testing your headline works similarly. You’ll plug in two different headlines and MailChimp or another program will send it each to 10 percent of your email list. They’ll see which headline causes more people to open the message and then send that headline to the remaining 80 percent of your list. It’ ensures that you’re always making the best impression.
In almost all CRMs, you will be asked to declare a sender for every email you send. This is the “email@example.com” email address but it’s also one of the two fields that your customer will see when your email pops into their inbox. Rather than being clever, try and be clear. If you own a store, the from line should probably be the store name and not the owner. Similarly, if you’re a freelancer or small consultancy, people may be more likely to recognize your name and not a vague company name. Be clear. If you have multiple employees, you may also try sending from one of them. A fresh name can encourage someone to open your email who hasn’t opened in a while. Over time, you’ll find that one team member may garner a better open rate and you can use them for some of your most important messages.
As a small business owner, you’re wearing a lot of hats and it’s entirely likely that email marketing hasn’t been a top priority. Perhaps you’ve only been able to get to it late at night when all the customers and clients are gone or first thing in the morning. Try to put yourself in the minds of your customers and think about when they would want to receive and engage with your content. During their lunch hour? During the weekend? In the evenings? You’re competing for their attention with just about every other big brand out there, so you need to keep testing when you send out your emails until you find a sweet spot.
How do I know if I have an email delivery issue?
A delivery issue most often appears when you see that you’ve consistently had an open rate say between 10 to 30 percent but all of a sudden your open rate is 2 to 3 percent. Anytime you’ve had a significantly lower open rate than what you typically see, it’s time to dig deeper. Perhaps the email that triggered the issue used language that got caught in a spam filter? Perhaps the sender was unrecognized? You’ve done something to get in trouble with an ISP and you need to get back in good graces with Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, Comcast or whomever else may be blocking you. But, that’s the good news, it’s not very often that multiple providers will be blocking you at the same time -- it’s probably just one that you need to work with and resolve your deliver issues.
What can I do next?
There are advanced techniques that you can do to improve your delivery rate with a certain ISP, but it requires quite a bit of segmentation and time. The best thing a small business owner can do is contact your email provider first (Constant Contact, HubSpot, etc.) They will likely have step-by-step instructions or proprietary tools that can help you resolve the issue.
Want to dig deeper into email marketing and email delivery? Sign up for the three-week, coach-led MainStreet Marketing course by BusinessBlocks. Sign up now to reserve your seat >