Are You an Email Superstar?

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Clean lists for the masses
Clean lists for the masses

The median open rate for emails in the United States last year, according to a study released this week by Silverpop, was 16.5%. If your open rates are cruising along at 20% or above, then, you might have a fairly high opinion of your email prowess. You would be mistaken. You are not even in the top 25% of email marketers.

Silverpop broke out its metrics into segments by performance and found that the best-performing quartile experienced unique open rates of 34.7%, twice as good as the status quo and four times better than spray-and-prayers in the bottom quartile that registered 8.2%. Email superstars left their lesser competition even farther behind when it came to click-through rates, scoring 8.3% in the face of only 2.3% for those in the middle and 0.6% in the doldrums.

“The thing about email marketing is that, even done poorly, it can do well,” says Silverpop VP of Industry Relations Loren McDonald, who directed the study of more than 2,700 clients for the company's 2013 Email Marketing Benchmark Study. “The top performers are leveraging the information they have about their customers. They're sending recommendation emails, purchase anniversary, and abandoned cart emails. Average performers hear about these capabilities and fear that it's complicated.”

While personalizing email communications and reacting to customers with real-time offers is a proven boon to open rates, a clean list serves just as well if all one wants to do is elevate the numbers, says another email expert.  “Some people on your list don't open an email in three months [so] you unsubscribe them. What's left is a much more engaged audience and they open at a higher rate, but it doesn't mean you have any more people opening,” says G.B. Heidarsson, SVP of sales and marketing at eDataSource, an email analysis provider. “It means that the list is cleaner, but it doesn't mean you increased your revenue.”

If Heidarsson's right, then the kings of clean lists rule in Canada. Silverpop's global breakdown of results showed that Canadian email marketers post mean open rates six percentage points higher than their U.S. counterparts and median rates that are superior by seven points. Heidarsson wonders if more stringent privacy regulations in Canada produce cleaner lists as a by-product. “I'm all for the free market we have in the U.S., believe me,” Heidarsson says, “but something like this makes you wonder if sometimes we fight legislation too much.”

Among industry verticals, education and health care proved the strongest performers, according to McDonald. The top quartile of education emailers proved valedictorians of all industry classes, registering the highest median scores for uniques (46.1%), gross open rate (126.5%), and click-through rate (12.8%). Leading health care emailers, meanwhile, scored the highest click-to-open ratio, of 33%. (Click-to-open measures unique clicks as a percentage of opened, rather than sent, emails.)

Especially engaged customers and prospects added to these verticals numbers, McDonald notes. “Think about consumers who are engaged with organizations in education and healthcare. You are literally in market with those organizations,” he says. “There are certain segments at certain time that are very involved in searching for colleges or dealing with health issues.” Heidarsson adds that the proliferation of for-profit colleges such as University of Phoenix and Strayer University have added a force of experienced marketers to the education field.

McDonald, too, was impressed with the showing put forth by retail, whose best emailers scored 98.8% gross open rates and 39.6% for uniques. “I was surprised by how well the vertical did,” he says. “They get a lot of bad press about sending more and more emails, but the reality is that they are really moving up their game a couple of levels . They may be sending twice as many emails on holidays, but they are also using automation to achieve better results.”

Silverpop studied all messages sent by 2,787 brands in 40 countries last year to compile its Benchmark study. A broad set of message types were analyzed--from promotional emails and content-based newsletters to notifications and transactional messages.

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