Email Marketing: A Street Level Analysis

email marketingBy Clay Morgan

When I served as publisher of a newspaper, we used email marketing, in the form of newsletters, to help highlight key stories and drive traffic.

The “top 5 stories” newsletter was our most popular.

It was sent out daily and contained the five most popular links of the day.

We also had email newsletters for sports, lifestyles, real estate, food, and a number of other topics.

Email Marketing: The Three Things That Matter

Typically, when evaluating the success of our newsletters we looked at three things:

  • The number of subscribers.
  • Open rates.
  • Click rates for the individual stories.

It is pretty obvious that the click rate for individual stories impacted our traffic, and the open rates and number of subscribers impacted whether or not we could sell an ad on our newsletter.

We also constantly evaluated the content to ensure it was high quality, fresh, unique, and something the subscribers desired.

Evaluation, Analysis, and Change

Our Top 5 had the most subscribers, but the open rate was in the teens as a percentage, and we noticed the click rate was fairly low.

The problem, it seemed, lay with how much information from each story we included in the newsletter. As we tinkered with it, refined our newsletter and started excluding the “conclusion” of what happened, click rates increased.

Sports was a little different. The readers of that newsletter had no problem if we included a final score in the newsletter. The click rate was still astonishingly high. The reason was that sports readers didn’t want to know the score – they already knew it – they wanted to read the game account or analysis.

The sports newsletter open rate approached 60 percent every day, enough that – even with a fourth the number of subscribers of the Top 5 newsletter – it still had more opens in raw numbers. And email marketing dream.

Sometimes, the analysis resulted in death.

We started a lunch newsletter that was emailed at about 11 a.m. and included several restaurant suggestions and links to reviews. This section on our website had huge readership and the food section in print was very popular. It seemed a natural and the staff was extremely pumped.

About three months in, we were sitting on about 40 subscribers, an embarrassingly low open rate and virtually no click throughs. Certainly, there was no advertiser interest.

Despite staff enthusiasm for the project and several adjustments to the newsletter, we had to kill it.

Take Aways

There are a few lessons learned from my newsletter experience.

Experiment. Change the content, the headlines, etc., until you have the right mix to maximize open rates and clicks.

Look at everything in total instead of getting tunnel vision on one or two numbers. A low subscriber rate but a high open percentage or click rate may still be a successful newsletter.

Don’t be afraid to kill an underperforming newsletter.

Always ask yourself if you are providing the right content for the reader.

If your email newsletter is lacking, sometimes just a little tweaking makes all the difference in the world.