Mailing List Underperforming? Optimize it with these Tips!

Tips and Strategies for Bloggers for Mailing List Optimization

Make the most of your blog’s current mailing list by optimizing key elements of your posts and your emails to subscribers.

In this article you will learn about:
  • Prioritizing your Optimization Efforts
  • Subject Line Tips
    • The Short Attention-Span Inbox
    • Keeping It Short
    • Going Negative
    • The Benefits of Keywords
    • Numbers and Counts
    • Actionable Subjects
    • The Importance of Now
  • Avoiding Attention Drains
  • Your Email has been Opened “ So What?
  • Full or Partial Posts
  • Measuring and Testing

At the end of the article is a set of action items for you to put into practice right now to improve your list’s performance.

[This is the seventh article in the List Building for Bloggers series “ Click here to read all the #LBB posts]

On List Optimization: Priorities

The next few sections of our List Building for Bloggers series are about maximizing the value you get from your list. Optimizing can yield great benefits for you and your readers, and can greatly increase both the value of the list to you as well as the value of your mailings to your subscribers.

But First, Back to Basics

That said, it is largely futile to start optimizing a list if you don’t have the basics working properly. Or, more bluntly, there’s no point worrying about writing the right subject line if your site visitors can’t fund the subscription form on your site!

So if you’re just starting with the series, or haven’t yet take the actions recommended earlier in the series, please stop reading this article and get the basics in place first. These earlier articles in the List Building for Bloggers series are for you to read, mark and put into practice before you start an optimization effort:

  1. Why aren’t Email Lists Dead in the Age of Social Media?
  2. Lists, Email Marketing and Your Blog
  3. Five Key Steps to Grow Your Blog’s Mailing List
  4. Growing Your List: Accelerating Subscriber Growth
  5. Growing Your List: Improving Engagement
  6. Avoiding the Spam Trap

Again, if you haven’t got the basics in place any investment you’re making in optimization won’t yield the returns you want. It’s essential to get the fundamentals right before you invest time and energy in optimization, testing and analytics.

Start Here

Still with me? Good. You’re ready to take your list to the next level.

What you will NOT find out

The keys to successfully optimizing your mailing list (actually, pretty much optimizing anything) is to focus on the big wins first “ the items that will give you the most bank for the buck. This means getting the basics right (see above) and then moving to the next level. At this point in the program, it does not mean worrying about what day or time your mailings go out, for example. You can optimize that too, to be sure “ it’s just not as big a win as the items I’m covering in this post.

Subject Line Optimization

Obviously, your email is no good if it doesn’t get opened. So what you have to do is get the visitor to be so excited (or at least intrigued) by your email’s subject line that they have no choice but to open it and read.

How do you do that? Well, by following good email copywriting rules, that’s how. Here’s what works:

  • Short subjects
  • Controversial headlines
  • Keywords
  • Numbers and counts
  • Actionable subjects
  • Timely or urgent posts

So an email entitled “Three tips to fix your awful subject lines now” is a good one “ short, contains a number, is actionable (“tips to fix”), is controversial (“your awful subject lines”), elicits a sense of urgency (“now”) and, for an email marketing blog, is keyword rich.

Since any decent blogger email system will automate the creation of your subject lines for you, and the subject line is likely to be your blog post’s title, what this basically implies is that you need to think much harder about post titles.

The good news is that, if you think about punching up your subject lines, this will benefit all your automated marketing and social media activities. Short is sweet for Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn headings too, and the casual readers there have the same attention span within which you have to seize their attention. Keyword rich post headlines are also great for SEO, so it’s a discipline well worth building.

The Short Attention-Span Inbox

While I don’t think that attention spans are declining globally, clearly to what and to whom we give our attention is changing. In particular, deciding whether to read an email from your blog is decided in the time it takes to read and (mis)understand your headline. Use that time wisely to hook your reader. All you have is a second or two, tops. Make the most of it.

Given this constraint, let’s look at each of these subject line tips in a bit more detail.

Keep It Short

Not only do you have a short attention span reader, you have to contend with the width of the subject line in their inbox. If you “bury the lead” by having the meat of your subject line over at the far end then it is more likely not to fit in the column, which means that it is less likely your email will be read.

This is especially true if your readership is increasingly using mobile devices to read email first “ and whose isn’t? You have even less space there for the subject. On my BlackBerry, for example, there are only about 35 characters visible when I’m holding it in portrait mode. That isn’t much. Get to the point quickly!

Go Negative: Embrace Controversy

Controversial or negative headlines do better than sweet happy subjects. It’s the way we’re wired. Like a newspaper, it’s excitement “ and perhaps a little shock value “ that sells. So don’t invite subscribers to improve or get better; that’s too soft. Tell them they’re failing and that you’re here to help. Or lead with a negative statistic.

I’m not necessarily advocating being all doom and gloom all the time; that can be tiresome. By all means throw in a little positive attitude in there from time to time to mix it up. But controversy, like sex, sells. Open up your headlines to your inner dark side and enjoy!

SEO your Subject Lines: Use Keywords

The title tag is the most important part of any web page as far as search engines are concerned. So invest a minute in making it count. If you build your headline with SEO in mind it should become both short and keyword rich, perfect for effective email subject lines. Better for the bots, better for your readership.

Get Attention: Numbers and Counts

People love lists. And you might have noticed that many of the top bloggers and tweeters (?) use lists a lot. Three tips for this. Top ten techniques for that. Five ways to the other.

It isn’t coincidence. Lists work. Especially short lists with a compelling result. Who wants to read 937 ways to improve their scrabble score? Nobody, that’s who. Three surefire tricks to doubling your scrabble tally? Sign me up!

Be Imperative: Actionable Subjects

Firstly, subject lines that clearly show how the reader can benefit with real results are great, especially in this DIY age if you can make it quick or easy.

Secondly, don’t ask for the order. Tell them to give it to you. So, although it may pain Ms. Manners, don’t say please. Don’t say if. Do not equivocate. Instead, tell the reader what you want them to do, and be assertive. So short verbs (“go”, “fix”, “click”, “make”, “find”) using the imperative work really well. Don’t be shy in your subject lines; compel the reader to open your email.

Avoid Procrastination: The Importance of Now

If you’re writing time sensitive email, or your linking to an event, make that clear. If there’s a deadline (e.g. “Ends tomorrow”, “only 24 hours left”) make it obvious.

If there isn’t, you can make the email more likely to be opened if you can help the reader not be lazy and get back to you later (because, more than likely, they won’t). So if you have tips, can they take your advice right now? Yes! Can opening this email make a difference immediately? Absolutely. Can you help them today? You bet!

Subject Line Attention Drains

On the other side of the equation, there are things that can easily drain attention, especially for bloggers using automated email subscription services like FeedBlitz. Some of these are the obvious opposites of the things you should be doing, such as:

  • Write long, boring titles
  • Bury the lead
  • Always being nice
  • Being too wordy
  • Always asking (if at all) instead of telling
  • Not being timely

There are other traps for the unwary, though. Here are some traps to avoid, especially for bloggers:

Don’t repeat your blog’s title or tagline in the subject line. Your readers know who you are and you don’t do this in your blog posts. Don’t do it to your email readership. Make sure the name the email is from identifies you instead and use your subject line more effectively.

Don’t get cute. Some bloggers take pride in their “cute” headlines. This may be great for your blog (especially if you’re less interested in SEO), but “cute” can easily be misinterpreted or ignored when your email is being scanned in the inbox. Unless your fans are so avid they open anything from you, try and keep your subject lines clear. If you really, really like cute but also want to goose your list’s response rate, write your blog post with a subject-line friendly title, mail it, then change the title back to “cute” once the mailing’s gone out.

Your Email’s Been Opened “ So What?

Again, good copy writing guidelines apply here. You want your emails to be easily read, appropriate for the audience, and match the subject line. If you paid attention in high school English you’re probably going to do fine. Tune appropriately.

Three Times is The Charm

Your mailing should also be focused. The old presentation adage works fine here:
  1. Tell ?ªem what you’re going to tell ?ªem
  2. Tell ?ªem
  3. Tell ?ªem what you just told ?ªem.
Repetition works. Which is why, for example, most of the List Building for Bloggers #LBB posts have a “What you will learn” section at the top, and an “Action items” section at the bottom.

Don’t Overwhelm your Readers with Choices

In sales, too many choices can deter a result – buyers get confused and don’t know what to buy, so in the end they don’t. Back when I was a fledgling VP at a previous firm, my CEO would always say that I should pick the one to three things I wanted the Board members to take away from my presentation. It was – and is – good advice. The same is true for your blog posts and emails you send. Too many choices or calls to action can have the opposite effect to what you want and actively reduce engagement.

Make Sure you Have Compelling Calls to Action

Make your calls to action like your subject lines “ short, imperative, timely. Like the different classes of reader discussed here, calls to action should also accommodate scanners, readers and the picture-centric. Try placing your call to action into a big graphic button, for example. And if you’re just writing editorial, at least ask them to retweet, like on Facebook or forward to a friend.

Don’t Put the Milk in the Back Corner of the Store

Obviously, don’t fib with your subject. But what I mean by this is that you shouldn’t make your subject all about X, and then make your readers read about A, B and C before they get to X. That’s like the grocery store which puts the milk at the back “ they want you to pass all that yummy food on the way and make a couple of impulse purchases.

You don’t need to do that (remember, you’re limiting your calls to action); you’ll lose your readership en route. Having hooked the reader with your subject line, deliver the goods up front. It’s disrespectful to your readers to do anything else.

Full or Partial Posts

One way to increase engagement (at the risk of aggravating a portion of your readership) is to limit the content in your blog’s email updates to partial posts.

You should see an increase in click throughs. You may also see a rash of unsubscribes from those who will only tolerate full content. If you do choose partial posts, make sure that you do the following:

  • Include enough post content in the email to hook the reader
  • Use an email app like FeedBlitz that retains formatting, links and images in partial posts
  • Use compelling calls to action to encourage click throughs

Measuring Results “ Test, Baby, Test!

Rome wasn’t built in a day “ and nor will your results be. Your audience’s interactions with your content will vary by season, the weather, holidays and “ yes “ by what you write. So collect engagement metrics “ opens and click throughs, primarily “ over several previous mailings. Try to get a baseline with at least 7 mailings; the more the better to reduce the effects of variations in any one mailing.

Then make ONE change (e.g. focusing on the subject line) “ that way you isolate any effects to the change you’re testing. You may see a difference immediately, but you should look at the engagement trend over a series of posts. See how your audience is starting to react and tune. Rinse and repeat for other optimization steps as the hard data comes in.

As you improve, you should also see improvements in softer, more anecdotal metrics: Retweets of your posts, greater comment activity or more Facebook likes, for example. See what works for your audience and engage back!

Your Action Items

  • Make sure you have the basics covered first
  • Establish your current open and click through metrics baseline
  • Change one factor at a time when testing
  • Keep subject lines imperative, short, and to the point
  • Keep your content focused
  • Make compelling calls to action?á
  • ?á but not too many!

Next Up

Autoresponders, drip marketing and lead nurturing for your blog.

About List Building For Bloggers #LBB

Written by Phil Hollows, the FeedBlitz Founder and CEO, List Building for Bloggers (#LBB) is a series of posts to help you make the most of your blogging by harnessing the power and capabilities of email, the universal social network, with your bog and social media communications. No matter whether you’re a novice or a more advanced blogger, there will be something for you to learn, apply and benefit from in this series. Click here to read more about #LBB

P.S. If you think your friends or followers would find this series valuable, please retweet on Twitter or “Like” on Facebook using the buttons below. Don’t forget to use the #LBB hashtag when you do. Thank you! And if you have a comment, contribution or something else to say, please comment too. 🙂