Below you will find a guide to some industry tips and tricks that I have learned and invented over the last 16 years of working in digital. I have tried to make this article as useful and practical as possible. So without further ado…
Here are 5 email segmentation practices you should consider:
Segment by engagement
a) The trick to open and click through rates
Did you know that people could open your email and it would not be reflected in your open rate?
Yep, now pick up your dropped bun and read on. Open rates are recorded when a pixel is fired in your email client. The pixel can only be fired if image loading is enabled, manually or automatically. Therein lies the problem. Many corporate emails have image loading disabled by default.
So how do you get around this?
Do not segment by open rates only. That’s how. Instead segment by those who have opened or clicked on your content. You see, when a click occurs, there is a transient URL that loads from your mail provider that notifies it of which link was clicked on which newsletter, when etc.
To prove this to yourself go to your inbox > open an email newsletter you are subscribed to > right click on a link > copy link address > then you will get something like this:
The above is the way that Mailchimp handles click tracking. “It’s not perfect but it’s mine” in the words of Tim Minchin.
b) Decaying engagement & frequency
The above email unsubscribe curve shows the actual unsubscribe rate and behavior of an e-commerce acquired list for a particular campaign. It is very much in line with what I have seen at a bunch of other e-commerce stores. You see a steep drop off in the first few weeks, as you blast your newly engaged audience with emails of various nature, tone and cadence, followed by exponential deterioration (despite drop off in frequency and direct selling), to stabilise at around 15-20% of the initial subscribed population after about 5 months. In a year’s time, most companies net out at 10%.
c) Stages of engagement & on-boarding
We know that subscribers are most engaged at the beginning of their tenure in your list. This is a fact. It would not make sense to waste this time by not going hard, lest the user forget who you are as you lose your identity amidst a sea of other inbox advertisements. But, you have be smart about it. You can maintain frequency with near daily emails for the first week of a subscriber’s lifetime so long as you don’t ask for too much, and add tonnes of value!
I will discuss some awesome welcome series email tactics below.
d) Stages of disengagement: opting users down
Look out for consistent drops in open rate and click through rate. Think about it, a newsletter for example is fine until all of a sudden it isn’t. It could be that a person’s interest in your topic naturally wanes. Consider creating an automatic segment of people in your mailing list who receive a different frequency of emails the less they engage with your communication.
As a rule of thumb, if someone has not opened or clicked on any of your emails over the last couple of weeks, opt them down. Remove these subscribers from your main mailing list or put them in a specific segment which would see them receive emails from you at half the frequency of your typical mailing list. Then keep an eye out, if they still don’t engage, opt them into a segment with a frequency of half of the previous one.
If you think of the emails you send out as gears causing action within your base, subscribers who exhibit disengaged type behaviour will only take action that requires less commitment and less force. So overpowering them with excessive emails will only cause them to unsubscribe – and that is expensive! Instead consider feeding a subset of the emails you would ordinarily send, then rinse and repeat. The ideal state is that you arrive at a point where you can preempt unsubscription by modulating the frequency of emails and causing moderate engagement and traction between the gears.
You could also achieve the above by simply asking the user about how frequently they would like to receive emails from you and changing their email frequency accordingly.
e) Stage of re-engagement
You can only attempt re-engagement once your methodology for dealing with disengagement has been sorted out. How will you know you have an adequate policy for dealing with the disengaged I hear you ask? Easy – look at your unsubscribe rate before you started this exercise, if it is meaningfully greater than it is now, then you have done a good job, else, keep going.
Re-engagement can happen in a number of ways. There is spontaneous re-engagement – where there appears to be no reason whatsoever for your subscribers being interested in you again, but they are. Maybe they have a new job and suddenly your blog is extremely useful to them…who knows! But consistent rates of engagement from the lower gears could be a sign that your subscribers are ready to take this relationship further. Here’s how…
First do a test. See if you opt your subscriber to a frequency twice of what he or she is used to, will they put up with it? If so, try sending them an email with a quick message like:
I just wanted to say thank you for being a subscriber to my blog.
I have noticed that lately you have been more engaged in the emails I am sending you, which is great! So, I just wanted to find out if you were open to letting me send you an email every week instead of twice a month?
If you are please let me know.
Also, please feel free to let me know if you have any thoughts or feedback on how I could improve my blog.”
This sort of email acts as both a survey (which tends to get high engagement – as you will see below) and as a way of breaking up the traditional mode of communication with your subscribers. It shows that there is an interested person on the other end of the email. This is also the best practice for opting a user into a higher frequency of communication – i.e. get explicit consent.
Segment by category of interest
Say you sell home-wares online. Your first mission should be to try and build profiles/personas of the types of visitors that would come to your site. There are a ton of resources on the internet about good ways of going about this, but what I would recommend is this:
- Start with what the goals of your site are (in this example it is purchasing things online)
- Examine at least 1,000 of your orders (if you have more, even better) then look for patterns in the following:
- Order value: (can you create tiers i.e. <$100, $101 – $250, $250+ etc)
- Categories: look at what customers buy from two depths; (category depth 1: broad categories e.g. sleepwear, kitchenware, bathroom etc) and (category depth 2: more specific categories e.g. sheets, pillows, crockery, glassware etc)
- Traffic source: reffered them to your site (adwords, organic, direct to site, affiliate etc)
- The sequence: of products purchased on the site (e.g. bedroom sheets > pillow cases > bathroom mat) – this might help you figure out your “hero” products and understand how to price items in order to get people to buy, as well as help map your LTV and retention curves.
- Do some geographical analysis: you might be surprised to find the large percentage of customers who are located within a 100km radius of your office!
- Then try and understand who your customer is: Google Analytics (GA) is a basic place to start – try the demographic report and enhance this with a few custom segments of your customers, you can also use the Facebook API to extract more dimensions about your customers
Segment by internet service provider
This is a tip for the pros – who send a lot of email. I remember having worked at certain companies who would send between 10 – 50 million emails every single month. Not exaggerating. In those situations what will end up happening is that you will trigger a SPAM filter. I remember when we set off the Gmail, Hotmail, Optusnet, Bigpond and a handful of other corporate SPAM filters. What that means is that emails to anyone of your subscribers who has this internet service provider (ISP) will go straight into their SPAM at worst and at best, might get caught in a rate limiting loop which might see some of your subscribers get their emails weeks after they were sent! Now this won’t be a problem if you are on Mailchimp or any similar provider because you will get banned long before this ever becomes an issue ;). But if you are free balling it, and are using services such as Amazon SES, Mandrill or Mailgun for non transaction email purposes, or ExactTarget, Responsys or Cheetah Mail or any other corporate or start-up email sending platform that gives you a lot more flexibility – you will need to segment sooner rather than later.
Once you do segment by email provider, you can then start to rate limit your sends to each of these providers based on how their SPAM filters react to you. If you get blocked, you may also elect not to send emails to your Bigpond subscribers for a while, or send to them from another IP address. There are many more advanced internet service provider tips – so if this interests you please get in touch, as this is an article onto itself.
Segment by opt-in source
Let me start off with one law of internet marketing. Never, ever, ever do co-reg. Co-reg or co-registration is what dodgy affiliate companies will try and sell you. It involves opting users into receiving emails from you without them explicitly knowing that. Typically co-reg emails are capture when users fill out surveys, enter competitions or gathered on post-transactional pages. Permission is “gathered” via tick boxes. I am tempted to name and shame a few of these operators, but I shall refrain for now. Importing co-reg users into your email list will destroy your sender score and email reputation as people report your emails as SPAM and unsubscribe in droves. Co-reg is a great way of losing money!
Co-reg aside, segmenting by source of acquisition, say Adwords vs Display vs Group Buying channels of user acquisitions is an extremely powerful predictor of LTV, duration of subscription and general engagement. Typically, you will find you get what you pay for, in that Adwords though expensive, tends to provide the best type of customer whereas affiliate and group buying customers tend to have a far shorter attention span for your offering.
Merge fields / Custom data fields
It is extremely easy to pass in customer details from your database into your email sending platform. In Mailchimp for example, you have mergetags which represent dimensions of data which classify your user base. For example, you could pass through things like purchase history, user shortlist, any survey results or even social data that you have gathered on your customer.
You could and should use this data to send more personalised emails. So instead of a blanket promotion, maybe send an email offering a discount on a specific item in the user’s short list –how cool would that be?
Here are the drip campaigns you should have set-up
A welcome series
If you are going to implement one automations / drip campaign only, make sure it is the welcome series. The key to a good welcome series is to start simple, keep adding emails to your series, look at data, iterate and keep it simple. I will discuss two good welcome emails to use in your welcome series, but welcome emails could be as extensive as 50 emails long. Just recognise this to be an ongoing process.
a) Say thanks, set expectations & on-board
Your customers are new kids on the block, they don’t know the rules of engagement. Tell them what you are going to send them, welcome them with a genuine offer, thank them and tell them about you, and get them to engage with you by asking questions of them.
Also, don’t feel the need to be ostentatious with HTML – plain text emails like this work perfectly well too.
b) Drill down on a feature + show social proof
Be educational and valuable. Show people the “must know” functionality of your site. Draw their attention to ways of using the site that may be beneficial to them. Prove to them that they can trust you.
A low engagement series
Once you notice that your engagement is waning with specific subscribers, and once you have pulled them out of the main hoard and put them into a unique list or segment, start delivering value by the bucket load!
a) Thought leadership
Write with your own unique voice. Talk about how you are changing the industry. What new, innovative products you are launching. Give your customers a reason to get excited and be proud of supporting you.
Call a webinar and invite industry experts to go through your product and answer live questions from your customers.
While infographics sound relatively easy to do, they are not. They have to be well researched, heavily image focused and informative (it’s in the name). Perhaps the best one I have come across is an infographic by an Australian office furniture retailer JasonL. Notice how his infographic has appeal to the audience that JasonL is after but is also useful and interesting.
It is really easy to create bad videos. It is hard and expensive to plan out really good ones, edit them and to source music and graphics. In my experience, using a service like fiverr.com could help, but could also make you go backwards. Get someone in your team to develop and create the content and get a relatively expensive resource to architect the skeleton of the first video so that all future videos could be emulated relatively cheaply by someone on fiverr. ‘How To’ guides for your product are a great video subject matter to focus on.
A re-activation series
a) A survey
What do you send people to get them active and interested in your products? Why not ask them! My favourite tool for this is typeform – it is free, easy and the only tool which I have ever seen have a higher mobile conversion rate than desktop (here is a link to the sorts of templates they have)!
Use the survey to find out what your audience preferences are by way of topic and frequency, ask them questions that would help paint their customer persona and, most importantly, incentivise. If done right survey emails could be one of the most profitable emails you have ever done!
b) A competition
Give something away, but make it a game of skill. Make it a game of skill wherein the result of the competition could genuinely be useful to you. You should see engagement rates increase now, and if done correctly you also get the added value of extra data!
c) A personal outreach email
It is really good practice to sprinkle personal emails between your other automations. It is reassuring and it reminds people that there is a genuine person behind the brand. The best kinds of personal re-engagement emails tend to be one to two sentence structures that typically ask a question and provide a headshot and contact number in the footer too. Founder / CEO emails are awesome re-engagement tactics!
A goodbye series
Ok, so you have tried everything. You have done incentives, got nothing, you have done competition, got nothing, you have even personally emailed your subscriber and still… nothing. Non-engagement is a terribly detrimental thing to your deliverability (your ability to get into the inbox). You need to clean your list. Here’s how:
a) Account jeopardy warning & incentive to resubscribe
Engage fear aversion. Threaten to delete, remove or disengage whatever status, data or holding the user has with your service. That’s the stick. As the carrot, give them a coupon for reactivating it – but be careful only let the user know about the carrot once they have taken your desired action.
b) Cost of not engaging
This is a lovely little follow-up email to the first email in the goodbye series which further extrapolates what the subscriber will be loosing out on if there are removed from the list.
c) Count them down
Prepare a series of 5 emails which count down a one month notice, down to a 1 day notice. Make it bold, large font and red if possible. It is also OK to use capital letters in subject line. After all, you are not worried about deliverability at this stage.
d) Delete + unsubscribe
You would not believe how many people only respond once you have deleted and unsubscribed them. But you have to actually mean it.
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