The Click-Through Catch-22

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The most effective methods for boosting click-through rates are also the most challenging to implement.

Email marketing is kind of a big deal.

Marketers can leverage the channel to engage with customers in nearly every part of the customer lifecycle. Consider the following data from Ascend2 and Dun & Bradstreet NetProspex's report “Email Marketing Trends—B2B Benchmarks for 2015”: Sixty percent of the 195 B2B business, marketing, and sales professionals surveyed use email to boost engagement; other main objectives include increasing lead generation (57%), improving acquisition and retention (43%), and enhancing lead nurturing (42%). And respondents seem confident in their ability to meet these objectives. In fact, 91% consider their email marketing somewhat or very successful at achieving company goals.

“Probably the primary reason why [email has] been so effective in a variety of areas like engagement is because most marketers are following best practices [of] opt-in email marketing—so people want to engage with them,” says Todd Lebo, partner and CMO of demand generation solution provider Ascend2. 

Of course, there are various ways to measure success. For most respondents, the key metric is the click-through rate. Indeed, 73% of professionals consider the click-through rate the most useful metric when measuring email marketing performance. Conversion rate came in a close second at 71%; open rate and email ROI—the next top contenders—significantly trailed behind at 42% and 40%, respectively.

Conversion rate and ROI are still important to measure, Lebo notes, but unlike click-through rates, they can't always be clearly tracked. “Every email should have an objective of having some sort of action that a click-through rate can measure,” he says.

Although the click-through rate is the favored metric, it's also one of email marketing's greatest hurdles. In fact, more than half of respondents (53%) cite low click-through rates as the biggest barrier to email marketing success, followed by lack of effective strategy (42%), lack of quality content (33%), and lack of internal resources (32%). And while 41% of professionals say their click-through rates are increasing, more than one quarter (27%) claim that their click-through rates are dropping; nearly one third (32%) of respondents say their rates aren't changing at all.

“It's hard to get people's attention,” Lebo says. “There's a lot of noise now.”

How can marketers fight stagnant and falling rates and get consumers' attention? According to the report, including a meaningful call-to-action offer is the most effective way to increase click-through rates for 65% of professionals. Respondents also cite list segmentation for targeting (51%), message personalization (44%), and testing and observing (33%) as other impactful methods. As Lebo puts it, the secret to a successful email strategy is ensuring that it's customer focused.

“When you're sending out an email, for example, it should be more about providing value for readers than trying to pitch yourself,” Lebo says. “Obviously, all marketing is about obtaining a sale, but you first have to build that loyalty by having high quality content...It's the first step of getting a sale.”

Then again, the most effective tactics can often be the most challenging to implement. “Proving that you're providing value and truly building loyalty with your audience is a challenge,” Lebo notes.

And the numbers agree: 43% of respondents say segmenting lists for targeting is the most difficult method to execute to boost click-through rates, and one third say the same for including meaningful call-to-action offers (33%) and testing and optimizing (34%).

So, what's a marketer to do? Lebo recommends focusing more on list quality and less on list quantity. “The size of your list really is an irrelevant metric,” he says. “It's more about the quality of your list [and] how engaged that audience is to your brand. As you follow that path to click-through rates, you can have a smaller list that's much more targeted and much more engaged with you and that will be a much higher value. As you start looking at your click-through rate, you're going to have more success.”

He also advises marketers to be patient with their subscribers and to see where they are in their customer journeys.

“If you're introducing somebody to your brand and you're jumping out right away with offers to your products before they decided that they need the product [or] that they trust you as a provider, then you're not going to be as successful,” he says. “Having the patience to build at a program, to look at your marketing funnel, and [to] provide emails and content that address the specific levels of the funnel is probably one of the most critical elements that marketers need to address.”

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