23 February 2023

Data-Backed Secrets to Improve Your Email Marketing Performance

Rob Croxall
Written by Rob Croxall

Rob Croxall is Regional Director for The Marketing Centre and specialises in working with small and mid-size businesses. He has over 30 years’ experience working in the media, engineering and charity sectors, focussing on UK as well as global markets.

Email marketing is a tried-and-tested way to generate leads. In fact, it’s consistently ranked as the top-performing lead generation tactic for our customers and our own business. 

But like any channel, if you want results, you need to do it right. If you send to the wrong people or send the right people the wrong thing, you’ll do little more than spam and frustrate potential customers.

Spotler is a B2B Marketing Automation platform for B2B, B2C and eCommerce companies. A few weeks ago they ran a talk for our team to share some fascinating insights from their latest research.

They used EEG machines to track the level of stress, interest, excitement, focus and relaxation email users exhibited as they interacted with different emails. They also ran over 100 separate split tests to see how different words and phrases affected open and clickthrough rates.

Here are some of the most interesting and useful things we heard that day. We recommend you share these insights with the people responsible for your email strategy. We learned a lot - and so will they.

Quick side note: these are general insights derived from general data. As with anything, what really matters is your audience, your messaging and your data. But these insights will give you plenty to think about and test. 

Simple emails consistently get more clicks

Spotler tested three different types of email. One featured an animated GIF in the header, one had a simple graphic and another was formatted using basic Outlook formatting.

The email with the GIF had the best recall. But the one that performed best in terms of clicks was the ‘boring’ version with basic formatting. This has consistently been the case over the three years they’ve been running this study.

Spotler think the reason for this might be as simple as fancy graphics make it look like a marketing email rather than a normal email from a colleague or customer. Which, ultimately, is what we go to our inbox to find.

So if you’re spending time and money creating fancy graphics and layouts for your email, you might want to reconsider. It could be doing more harm than good. 

Your email opens and clickthrough rates are probably wrong

Most email teams use open and clickthrough rates to benchmark performance. But Spotler found that most opens and clickthroughs are unreliable. In fact, in most cases, the email tools themselves typically account for 24% of all opens and 19% of all clicks in your reporting.

What does this mean for your business? Put simply, opens and clicks shouldn’t be used to indicate whether emails are ‘good’ or ‘bad’. The only reliable indicators are written replies and, ideally, website conversions. Any reporting within the tool should be considered a rough indicator at best. 

Get more advice on email marketing stats and KPIs. And check out this article to get email stats across different industries.

Emails from people get better open rates

Open rates may be hard to track. But that doesn’t mean they’re not important. In fact, open rates are everything. If no one opens the email, it doesn’t matter what’s inside.

So what can you do to improve open rates? We’ll talk more about subject lines in a minute. But here’s a quick and easy change that can improve open rates by up to 28%.  

Emails from actual people get better open rates than emails from brands. As mentioned above, people don’t want emails from brands. They want emails from people. 

Setting your ‘sender name’ to be a named person (rather than a brand name) and including an email preview that feels human and authentic can have a big impact on open rates. 

Creativity drives replies

Inboxes aren’t always the most exciting places. All it takes is a dash of creativity and originality to increase opens, clicks and replies. 

Spotler have tried all kinds of things - from quoting song lyrics and films to using funny sender names - and a bit of creativity consistently increases email performance.

It doesn’t need to be anything too wild or expensive. In one example, they just quoted a few lines from Disney’s Alladin. This simple idea was enough to encourage a few interested replies.

Spotler email example

Subject line secrets

One of the advantages of developing an email marketing tool (as Spotler have) is you have access to VAST amounts of email performance data. And there are some clear trends in that data when it comes to subject lines and open rates. 

Here’s what they found. Bear in mind, this is specifically for B2B companies.

  • The word ‘you’ or ‘your’ increases opens by around 18%
  • Calling out the job title or department increased open rates by 31%
  • The word ‘secret’ increased open rates by 17%
  • Here are some other useful words and their impact on open rates:
    • Outlook +22% 
    • Forecast +20%
    • Update +21%
    • Trends +24%
    • Reserve +22%
    • Don’t +21%
    • Future +21%

Emojis in subject lines are also proven to improve performance. Here are a few good ones to use:

  • ⏰ +25%
  • ⏳ +19%
  • ✅ +18%
  • 🔵 +17%
  • 🗓️ +14%

Some other quick tips:

  • Including numbers increases open rates by 34%
  • Using ellipses (“...”) or asking questions using the “5 Ws and 1 H” (what, who, where, how, etc.) increases opens

You should probably send MORE, not less

A lot of business leaders and marketers worry they’re sending too many emails. Good news: you’re not.

In fact, the optimal number of sends in terms of open rates is 3.5 times a week or 16 per month. That’s much higher than we would have expected. That said, spamming contacts is never the answer. Targeted emails perform much better than ‘spray and pray’. Experiment with increasing your send volume, but don’t annoy people.

Recap: how to get the best open and clickthrough rates for your email strategy

Just to reiterate what we said at the start, every company is different. You don’t have to follow these tips religiously. But, we will certainly be testing some of them in our own marketing over the next few months.

Here’s what Spotler’s research has told us you should consider:

  • Use a person’s name rather than a brand name as your ‘sender’ (female usually performs better according to the data)
  • Keep your subject line below 50 characters and experiment with the words and emojis above
  • Think twice about fancy graphics or formatting - your emails may work better without

These changes alone could have a big impact on your email stats. 

If you’re looking for more advice on email marketing, check out this great email marketing guide from Hubspot - they also published a great rundown of even more useful marketing stats

Looking for a second opinion?

As we mentioned at the start, email can be a great channel for generating leads. But if you don’t do it right, you can either waste your own time and money or, worse, annoy potential customers.

Our Marketing Directors have the expertise and experience to help you get set up with email marketing or sense-check your strategy. 


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