Episode 293 | The 6 Biggest Email Marketing Myths

Show Notes

In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike talk about the six biggest email marketing myths. The episode is put together around an unbounce.com blog post. Rob and Mike discuss whether they agree or disagree with the myths mentioned in this article.

Items mentioned in this episode:


Rob [00:00]: In this episode of Startups for The Rest of Us, Mike and I discuss the six biggest email marketing myths. This is Startups for The Rest of Us Episode 293.

Welcome to Startups for The Rest of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers, and entrepreneurs be awesome at building, launching, and growing cell phone products, whether you’ve built your first product or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Rob.

Mike [00:28]: And I’m Mike.

Rob [00:28]: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s the word this week, sir?

Mike [00:33]: I talked a little bit about it last week, but we’re finally putting the finishing touches and final testing on the huge code overhaul that we’ve been doing over the past several weeks. It’s been a long trying process at best, I’ll say, but it’s finally almost done. We’ll be able to go live with it in a couple of days. It’s prevented us from pushing new code live just because of the way that we did things. And we too had a couple of missteps along the way, but we didn’t push anything live to the production servers because we went through the testing process and it’s like, “Oh, this just doesn’t work,” or, “It’s broken in this way,” so we held off on some of that. But hopefully another 24-48 hours and that’ll be over with and then we can start moving ahead.

Rob [01:07]: Those are always super trying processes, man, trying to get all the code up to speed. Now why did you have such an overhaul this early? Typically, I’d imagine you get technical debt and then you’d wait a year and you really run into it, and then you come back and revamp. But why only you’re kind of still in early access at this point and a few months into development?

Mike [01:26]: So it had more to do with how things were interacting with the database, and the fact that it was just not easy to write unit tests. So we basically skipped a bunch of things early on in the development. And the things that we skipped made it really, really difficult to put automated tests in place. And we made the conscious decision to not do some of those tests, but we took a step back and there were bugs that were getting into production and things that were being broken. So, I took a look at it and we went through and tried to figure out, “Okay, well how can we write unit tests and make sure that this doesn’t happen again?” and it was actually not possible to write those unit tests because of the way that some of the code was structured. So, in an effort to get us to the point where we’re not incurring more technical debt every single time we had a feature, we did a code overhaul of some of the way that stuff accesses the databases and external resources and things like that, because we interact with the mailboxes and we’re heavily dependent upon the current time. So, because of those things you have to have an abstraction layer in the place that essentially mocks those things up and says, “Oh well, if you were to access this thing, this is what that would return.” But because we didn’t have any of those abstractions in place, you literally can’t test them.

So, there was just a lot of…it wasn’t really spaghetti code, it was just a lot of internal dependencies on things that we don’t really have control over and they were embedded in the code. So, just made it very difficult, like I said, bordering on impossible to test some of those things in an automated fashion. We bit the bullet now to go through that to get us to the point where we can do that. And it’s not to say that we’ll do it in every single case moving forward, but any time we come across a bug, I want to be able to be sure that we can write a test that will make it easier to filter those things out. So, when we run into things in production, we can get rid of them and test it locally and make sure that we’re not going to run into that again.

Rob [03:14]: Very cool. It’s always a bummer to have to do that upfront. It kills time but I think it’s probably the right choice if it’s allowing you to write unit test. Because I think I’ve said several times over the past couple of years that I will never build an app or work on an app again that doesn’t have extensive unit tests, because it has saved our bacon so many times with Drip. Obviously, it takes longer to build the feature. It’s incrementally longer especially in the early days, but over the long run, it will save you time. So, I think you’re making a good call there.

Mike [03:43]: Like I said, it wasn’t so much about writing the unit tests, it was having the ability to. So, when we do run into something, we need the ability to write those so that we can test it and say, “Okay, this is what’s happening in production.” And then we need to be able to replicate it locally and we couldn’t do that. So, there was one bug we run into, and I talked about it last week, where I literally could not replicate it locally because I couldn’t get everything set up and mocked up in a way that it was in production. So, I was just guessing at different things to say, “Okay, will this work? Will that work?” And I had to push several different variations of the code in order to ‘fix it’, so that was really the issue. It was just when we run into something; we need to be able to test it locally to make sure that we’re fixing it.

So how about you? What’s up this week?

Rob [04:28]: Things have been pretty good. They’re kind of busy and chaotic right now. With school ending, I’m sure you ran into having a lot of end-of-the-year presentations and awards ceremonies and plays and parties. And just so happens both of our kids have birthdays around this time. So, I’ve just felt like we’ve gone to a lot of performances and a lot of events recently. Which is fun to go to, but it does kind of fill up the time and mean we have less of our evenings and weekends free right now.

Mike [004:52]: My kids had a half-day of school yesterday, which you’d think with two weeks left that they would still have full days of school. But for whatever reason, they had a half-day of school yesterday. So, you have to deal with it.

Rob [05:01]: Right. And then we’ve had a transition. We had a friend of ours, a nanny in essence, watching one of our sons, and she transitioned into doing yoga instruction full-time. So, we’ve had to transition him on that as well as he’s now done with school as of last week. So, we’re really just rushing around, getting stuff done, in addition to some other chaos going on.

So, today we’re talking about the six biggest email marketing myths. And I put together the outline for this episode around an unbounced blog post. And it was published in mid-May, so it was a couple of weeks ago, and it’s called The Six Biggest Email Marketing Myths Debunked. I wanted to talk through it, because some of them I do think are pretty good points that we should discuss that people should or should not do. And then some of them I just don’t think are actually myths. They may be some light rules of thumb, but I don’t think they’re things that everyone proclaims are rules and the truth and going against them is a terrible thing. But that’s the fun part, is that we’re going to be able to look through this.

So, the article kicks off and it talks about how there’s over 205 billion emails sent and received through the Internet. And it talks about that one McKenzie study suggests that email marketing is 40 times more effective at acquiring new customers than Twitter and Facebook combined. And we’ve talked about that on this show here, right? I typically say it’s a 20:1; I didn’t think about 40:1. But this goes back to when I had an RSS feed on my blog with 20,000 people and I had an email list of about 1,000 and when I launched both of them, the email sold as much as the RSS feed did. Which was surprising to me, because I thought that a lot of people were reading the blog. But it turns out they were reading it amidst a bunch of other blogs, and so they didn’t really know whose blog was who, because in an RSS reader it kind of all blends together.

And then, of course, the whole thing of having 20,000 Twitter followers versus even 1,000 or 2,000 email addresses I would say still holds true. So, it’s neat to see that someone has actually studied that. That’s why so many people – like we had a question last week of a founder who is saying, “It seems like all the advice I see -” which I think is a bit of an exaggeration, but he said, “I think all the advice I see it starts with the presupposition that you have an email address. And I think the reason is because email addresses they just work so well. And so it’s basically everyone encouraging you to go start building your list.”

And so let’s dive into the first myth here. And again, it’s the myth according to this article. I think, Mike, you and I want to discuss whether or not we think these are myths, in fact. But the first one is that Tuesday is the best day to send marketing emails. The article says, you’ve almost certainly heard this one and from my rule of thumb, Mondays and Fridays are typically not very good days to send email because on Monday people are just getting back from the weekend and their inboxes are often filled with three days of email. And on Fridays, a lot of people wind up – they either take Fridays off, so then stuff would fall to Monday. Or people are just starting to check out for the weekend. And so Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, for me, have always been my rule of thumb. And I wouldn’t say these are hard and fast, but in general, that’s kind of what I lean towards.

Mike [07:55]: I think that for this you really need to figure out what your audience is like. Because I would suspect that there’s a huge difference between B2C versus B2B communication here. I think on the weekends, your B2Bcommunication is probably going to drop off a cliff. But depending on your audience in that B2B space, it might be appropriate to send them. So, if you’re sending emails to entrepreneurs or small businesses, your chances are probably decent of being heard above the crowd. Especially among entrepreneurs because they’re probably checking their email on the weekend or at least to some extent. Versus if you’re sending the emails to people who work at Oracle or Microsoft or any of the larger businesses, they’re probably not going to be checking their email on the weekends. I think that you have to take some of these data points with a little bit of a grain of salt and just understand that it is highly dependent upon who your target audience is. It’s not just that Tuesday is the best or worst day. It’s really relative to who it is that you’re communicating with.

Rob [08:51]: That’s a good point, and in fact I had a B2C eBook at one point. This is probably seven, eight years ago, and the emails on the weekends converted better. And I just guess because that’s what people were thinking about at the time. I never figured out why, I just knew that they did get higher click through rates on the weekends.

The other interesting thing or an interesting exception is when I still had our apprenticelinemanjobs.com, which was a job board, I would see big traffic spikes on Sunday. And so I started sending more emails on Sunday, and it definitely made a big difference. Because, you know, on Friday or even during the week, folks aren’t necessarily thinking about trying to find a new job, but when Sunday comes, they’re starting to dread the next day’s work, and they’re thinking about how they can get into another line of work. It was crazy to see the traffic spikes. The biggest day of the week every week was Sunday and it was like Sunday afternoon, Sunday evening. So, that’s good thing to keep in mind.

What the blog post here talks about is there’s a HubSpot science of email report and they looked at the impact of the day of the week had on email open rates – so it’s only open rates – and what they found is that it’s crazy how smaller lists versus larger lists, there was a different impact. So, for smaller lists, Tuesday was actually the worst day of the week to send. And it wasn’t until you get to the larger list which is more than 10,000, so it’s not that big. But then Tuesday was a reasonable day. But to be honest, it seems like the article concludes here that if you send on Tuesday, you’re probably getting lost in the noise of the other email marketers who are also using this best practice of sending on Tuesday.

So, that’s the problem with a lot of advice, is that once everyone starts taking it, it doesn’t work as well anymore. The same is true with any of the marketing approaches that you hear about or any of like a blueprint or a roadmap to starting a startup or doing the marketing tactic. It’s like once everybody is doing it, then it doesn’t stand out anymore. It’s not remarkable and so it just kind of blends in to the background and you have to find that next thing. And so, I could see this one – we see big spikes Monday and Tuesday at Drip with our sending, in terms of our customers wanting to send email. I could see maybe thinking about shifting to Wednesday morning, Thursday morning sends.

But number two is that you can only send a particular email once. And this blog post talks about how you wouldn’t want to send the same email to the same people. But they talk about the tactic that Noah Kagan of AppSumo and SumoMe, and it says it was actually taught to him by Neal Taparia from EasyBib. It’s a tactic that Noah popularized where you take the same email that you have already sent to a list, and you change the subject line and you resend it only to your non-opens, right? So it’s people who didn’t open the first one and you change the subject line. And we’ve actually found this to be so powerful that we implemented it in Drip as a feature. When you’re sending a broadcast, there’s a single checkbox you check. And if you checked to resend to unopened, and then you can just say how many days you want to wait and what’s the new subject line. And it’s just all built in and it happens automatically, and it’s linked back to the original. And we have consistently seen increases of more than – well, between let’s say 25 to 35%, so in the 30% range. And that is what Noah had mentioned too, is that they were getting greater than 30% increase in opens from this tactic.

Mike [11:58]: I was going to mention exactly that when you guys added that into Drip and made it easy to do. You look through if you send out a bunch of campaigns; you can look back through them and look at the stats for those people who have been resent a particular email. And it’s astonishing how many of those people who didn’t open it the first time will open it the second time and it’s the exact same email. The only thing that’s different is the subject. So it’s pretty amazing that this little hack works and gets such significant results out of it.

Rob [12:25]: And you might think that you’re going to get complaints, and we have never gotten complaints in our use of it, and as far as I know other customers haven’t as well. The only time that I got complaints, I think I sent to my Software by Rob list and I accidentally – this was before we had this. This made us put some code in place to prevent this, but I had scheduled a broadcast with a resend to unopen and then I unscheduled it to make a change, and then I sent it through again with resend unopen. So I resent it twice. And I’m pretty sure the second two I didn’t differ the subject line between the two, and so then people said, “Why did you resend this email to me?”

But aside from that, which again is now not possible with Drip, right. We eliminated that because I did it to my own list accidentally. But even that one, I only got – it was literally three or four people who said, “Hey, how come you sent this?” and didn’t seem that big of a deal. So this tactic, I’m a big fan of it and we’ve only seen positive results from it.

The third myth we’ll talk about is keep your marketing emails short. And this is one that I’m not so sure that I’ve heard this as like a hard and fast rule. I guess I’ve heard enough people talk about the exact opposite. Like Patrick McKenzie often talks about how he sends out these very long emails and that his audience likes it. And same thing, Joanna Wiebe is actually – I’ve heard her say this, but she’s quoted in this article about how it’s not about picking one length or one style out of a hat, because it’s going to depend so much on your visitors and your prospects. And I’ve often heard in the Internet marketing spaces – especially 10 years ago – the sales pitch thing was: the longer the better. The longer you make your sales page, the more you’re going to convert. And I have found the opposite to be true.

We have a long forms page on the home page of Drip right now as an example, and we’ve done split tests with shorter versions of it. And the shorter versions appear to be having more traction. And so we’re looking at making changes there, and this happened remember the Microprenuer website, the home page used to be a lot longer. That’s over at Micropreneur.com. And I ran several split tests and I had a long, a short, and a medium, and the medium one just cleaned house both times and the content was generally the same. Like the headlines weren’t different. It really was just the length and it was cutting some stuff out. So, I think the same applies to email here. I certainly don’t disagree with it. I just wonder if it is really a hardcore rule. I haven’t heard that many people talk about it, so I question if it’s really a myth.

Mike [14:34]: And I guess it goes back to what I had said before about knowing who your audience is and what it is that you’re offering them, and at what point in the sales process. There are certain times where a much longer email is going to be warranted, and then there are sometimes where you just want to send a quick one.

And I think I remember one time – and it’s kind of a little bit of an aside, but we made a mistake when we were talking about MicroConf in one of our emails that we’d sent out to the list, and we accidentally put in an unsubscribe link right up at the top and the subject was MicroConf and people saw it. And as soon as they saw the email, they just clicked on the first link that they saw because it said MicroConf. And had we obviously put that that the bottom or made it a longer email with stuff at the bottom, then they would have had to scroll a little bit. But I think that knowing what it is that you’re sending them and why it is that you’re sending them that email makes a huge difference in whether or not your emails should be short or should it be long. Are you trying to explain something to them? Are you trying to educate them about a particular topic? Are you trying to get them to buy something? If you’re trying to redirect them to another location, then chances are good you probably want a shorter email. But if it’s just an education email, then there’s no reason that I know of, to go with a short one. You couldn’t certainly embed all that information there.

The other thing that you have to think about, I think, is the reusability of that information. So, if you have a series of blog articles and you embed them directly into an email sequence, then that’s perfectly appropriated to do. But just keep in mind that it’s probably going to be a little bit unwise to be sending people who are in your email list links back to that blog post if the reason they ended up on your email list was because they read that blog post. So, just be a little bit aware of contextually where those people are in the sales funnel, and how they ended up on your list, and what the content is that you’re sending.

Rob [16:20]: You make a good point about really the purpose of the emails. Because well, what I’ve seen with our up front email mini-course – which is Why Marketing Automation is the Future of Email Marketing – we’ve seen really good read rates and comment rates and reply rates on that course. And I think one of the reasons is that the posts are very palatable, and you can read them – I say the posts. It was originally a blog post and we turned it into an email mini-course. The emails are short enough, but they’re super palatable. I do think like in this case, having shorter emails that aren’t impossible to read on mobile or just take forever to read – if Patrick McKenzie gets away with giving people 15 to 20 minutes to read because his stuff is – he’s got a warm audience who really likes him and they know he’s going to give really valuable stuff, when you’re first engaging with someone, they may not give you that much time. In fact, most of them are not. And so being able to pack some really powerful actionable stuff into a short email, I think, is a good way to get acquainted with someone. And then once you get deeper into your courses, I think having longer emails can work. But keep in mind that just trying to throw 5,000 words in that first email – a lot of people they aren’t going to be up for reading all that.

The fourth myth is to keep your subject line short. And in this blog post, they reference a return path blog post that talks about how a typical desktop inbox displays about 60 characters of a subject line, while mobile devices show just 25 to 30 characters. And so there’s been some general advice in the past few years of keeping your subject lines under 30 characters. But what the return path found is that the highest open rate – well, they call it read rate. But I mean I’m not exactly sure they would know that. It’s really more open rate – is between 61 and 70 characters. It’s 17% at that point.

Now, it’s a bit of an anomaly because they go in 10 character blocks, and like the one below it is 14 and then the three above it are 14. And so the 61 to 70 really is this funky anomaly that bumps up 3 percentage points and not exactly sure why that is, but what that’s indicating is potentially there’s some magic. You know, they did look at 2 million email subscribers from over 3,000 retail centers for the month of February. And so there’s a non-trivial sample size. We’re doing this with 10,000 people or something. I would say that this could be more of an anomaly, but it seems like they’ve actually done some reasonable research here to point out that you don’t necessarily have to be super short. I don’t think 61 to 70 is a magical number, but I do think this points out that maybe short email subject lines are not the end all be all that some folks recommend.

Mike [18:43]: I don’t know very much about this one way or the other. I think that you have to have a minimum number of characters just to convey what the email is about. That’s the purpose of a subject line. But you also don’t want to run a War in Peace book in the middle of the subject line either, because there are going to be things that are cut off. And if it’s cut off, then it’s interesting looking at the data and the graph here that they have. It says they grab the average read rate and then the messages with this subject line length. And there’s not really a drop-off in terms of the read rate after a certain point. But if the email client cuts it off at 60 characters, then it almost doesn’t matter whether you have 60 characters or 60 million in the subject line, because they’re not being read anyway. So, people are judging it based on those first 60 characters. It seems to me like the data itself is a little misleading because you really have to take those types of things into account.

Rob [19:36]: Our fifth myth is that unsubscribes are bad. And in essence, the writer of this post talks about how people who brag about not having many unsubscribes are incorrect. And that unsubscribes are good because they remove people from your list who are unlikely to buy from you. And I would say in general, I agree with that. If you are emailing on a reasonable schedule and giving good content and someone unsubscribes, then okay, they probably weren’t going to buy from you.

However, I have seen some people who literally email every day, seven days a week, and have let’s say an autoresponder sequence of 60 or 70 emails long. And maybe when people unsubscribe from that list, it’s not that they don’t want to buy from you, it’s that they don’t want to hear from you 70 days in a row.

I’m not saying that that’s a bad tactic by the way. I think for the approach that this person was using, it was actually a reasonable thing for the goal they were trying to achieve. But what I’m saying is that I think unsubscribes are fine. I think that if you’re getting half percent of your list or 1% of your list to unsubscribe within any given send, that’s not a red flag, in my opinion, because are just going to come in and out of your list. The two things to keep in mind are one, if you do get an unsubscribe rate higher than that, why is that? What have you been doing or what did you do in this email that is encouraging people to leave your list? And two, make sure that you’re building your list fast enough. That having a reasonable unsubscribe rate, an expected unsubscribe rate, is something that you can overcome because you’re gaining more people than you’re churning out, basically.

Mike [21:02]: I think there’s a big difference in viewpoint here in terms of looking at the fact that you have people unsubscribing versus having an unsubscribe rate that is sort of out of control. And you talked a little bit about it where the number of people that you’re adding to your list is not overcoming the number of people that are unsubscribing, then you probably have an issue there. You are sending out an email every single day and your email unsubscribe rates are pretty high but you’re still adding a number of people in that are going to overcome that, that’s not necessarily a good thing either.

I do agree with you that I think that having unsubscribes is not necessarily a bad thing. There’s going to be people who opt out, and you do want those people to opt out if they’re not a good fit. I’ve seen marketers out there who will tell you flat out, “Hey, if you’re not interested, click here,” and they will actively make efforts to prune their lists to some extent to get people off of their email lists. And there’s a number of advantages to that. One is that it helps them to not be inundated with data from people that are just not interested and are never going to buy. The last thing you want is an email list of 20,000 people where 15,000 of them just don’t want to buy from you and are never going to. And then you’ve only got this group of 5,000 people. Well, three-quarters of your list is crap at that point. So what happens then is you end up with a lot of misleading data about what you think people want versus what they actually want. And three-quarters of those people you should not be listening to. The problem is which three-quarters of them is it, and you don’t know.

So, taking steps at that point to get rid of those people at that point is a good idea, but it comes down a lot more to segmentation than anything else. So, unsubscribes are not necessarily bad, but you also have to take into account the context of where people are unsubscribing and why.

Rob [22:42]: And I take it a step further with pretty much all of my marketing lists, and we use the feature in Drip called List Pruning. And this actually will remove people who are not opening or clicking or engaging with your emails, because even if they haven’t unsubscribed, if it’s just going into their empty inbox, that’s not good. It’s not good for some of these could be honeypots, Yahoo, Hotmail, Gmail. A lot of these mail providers will look at – and this is all black box stuff. So it’s rumored that they look at if you’re sending domains or your IPs are sending a bunch of emails and none of them are getting opened or it’s a very low open rate, then they consider your list lower quality. And so, it can hurt your deliverability long term.

And so, we do list pruning pretty regularly, and this is why it’s so funny. Like our lists are smaller than they would be if we weren’t pruning, but our open rates are way, way higher as a result. Because we keep our deliverability up and we only keep engaged people on the list. We do some joint ventures and we’ll partner up on an integration or something and people will tell us they have a list of x-thousand and the first question is asking is, “What’s your average open rate on a broadcast?” Because that’s way, way more important, because we’ve literally had people say, “I have a 40,000-person list, and their open rate is like 10 or 11% on a broadcast. Whereas bottom end you want to be above 20, in my opinion, and you’re solid and have a really healthy list if you’re between 25 and 35 for the broader lists.

And it depends about the age and the size and a bunch of stuff. But when you first start out and someone first stops in, that very first email, you want to see especially if they’re opting in to get some information. I want to see like a 70% open rate on that first email and then 60% at the low end. I have seen some that are up around the 80% range. And then over time as someone receives 20, 30 emails from me, that’ll slowly tick down, right. And so if you get 10 or 20 emails into an auto responder campaign, you’ll see it drop down into the 50s and the 40s. And then when it gets in the 30s, it should typically level out in that range, assuming you have a decent quality list. But if you continue to drop and you drop into the 20s and the teens, you have an issue. And so, not even just unsubscribes here, but I think just getting rid of people from your list who aren’t engaging, it serves a lot of positive purposes.

And our sixth and final myth is that marketing emails should be branded and polished. And frankly, this is something that I’ve been reeling against for years, is the big glossy fix with email newsletters thing with the drag and drop builder that you build this big Microsoft FrontPage looking thing and then you send that out to people. I’ve just found, in my experience, that having really nice plain text looking emails that are responsive. And they’re not actually plain text because you need to have the image in there to see if people will open, and you want to be able to rewrite your lengths and stuff. So it’s an HTML email, but it looks like plain text. I’ve been doing that for 10 years and I think that is the way to go with few exceptions. I think ecommerce is one exception where the visual element really helps. I think if you’re a recipe website where the visuals of the food, that’s where you can have something formatted. But to do this multi-column newsletter-type thing if you’re just communicating with your audience and you want to build a relationship with them, or even if it’s your customers and you want to have a relationship with them, I really have not been a fan of that approach.

Mike [25:49]: Did you really just reference a product that was discontinued in 2003 to send emails?

Rob [25:54]: What did I say?

Mike [25:55]: FrontPage.

Rob [25:57]: I did, because you know why I was using it as an example, we all know that using Microsoft FrontPage, you just build crappy web pages. And that’s what I see coming out of these drag and drop email builders is unless you know what you’re doing, you’re going to build a crappy looking email. So yes, I did. I hope it put the image in your head of exactly what I was saying.

Mike [26:17]: Yes. No, it did, but it also points back to – I remember using FrontPage as well and I was like, “Wait a second. FrontPage, is that even around?” I didn’t think that it was, and I looked back and it was discontinued in 2003, so that’s kind of scary that we both remember that and both have used it in the past.

Rob [26:32]: Totally. Totally.

Mike [26:33]: I do generally agree with this. I’ve seen lots of emails that come in. Some of them are branded and some of them are not. And to me it means more that the content itself is decent and that the source that it’s coming from is somebody that I trust versus how good it looks or how polished it is. That stuff to me doesn’t matter nearly as much as it does that the source of the email itself is somebody that I actually want to hear from, because if I don’t want to hear from them, then I don’t care how polished the email is. I just don’t want to.

If you look at a lot of the marketing emails that come from the Fortune 500 companies, they’re very well branded. And it’s not to say that the branding doesn’t help them, because it certainly does – it makes them recognizable, but they’re in a position where that matters to them. Versus if you’re sending your own emails, the chances are good that having a lot of that additional branding probably has very little effect on your business and it’s more about are you optimizing for the right things in your emails.

One of the contention points that I have about this particular item here is that some of the data they give is about plain text emails versus having HTML emails that have gif embedded into them. And they claim that there’s a 37% decrease in opens if you’re adding images into them. And I question whether or not that is a valid data point, because how would you even measure the open rate if you’re not including some sort of a tracking pixel of some kind in there?

Rob [27:54]: Right. And you can’t include that in a plain text email. And that’s what I was saying earlier, that when I say plain text, I mean an HTML email that looks like plain text, so that it allows you to rewrite the links so you can track clicks, and it allows you to embed the image so you can track opens.

Mike [28:07]: I think what’s probably more important is trying to figure out whether or not having a lot of brand and polish in there makes a difference. But even something like that, you’re not going to know until you get a fairly massive email list and have the ability to do some split testing on it. And at that point, it’s not so much about the open rates as it is about what the conversion rates are and the action that you’re trying to get them to take inside of the email. So if you just want to get your emails open, that’s one thing, but if you want them to go into the email, read it, and then take some sort of an action after they get the email, that’s a completely different story.

Rob [28:41]: Wow, this HubSpot study is pretty intense. They say with statistical significance specifically that they tested it with such broad, or I guess a higher number of emails that it is true. They come to a lot of conclusions like it says people say they prefer HTML, so if you give them a choice they’ll choose that. But over and over in every AB test they ran, they preferred plain text emails. They said that the HMTL emails reduced open rates versus the plain text looking ones I’m assuming. They said HTML emails have reduced click through rates. And they don’t just mean HTML. I think they actually mean – they have these big design emails with a lot of – there’s a lot of flair in there basically. And images and formatting, and the fix with type stuff I was referencing earlier with my FrontPage comment.

This is why, to be honest, the one template built into Drip is an HTML template that looks like plain text, and you can of course embed an image in it or something, but we have not encouraged people to do the big fancy templates. Although some people do bring them in, and I’m sure if they’ve run tests, they might find out with your specific audience that they do like some particular branding. We do have people who have elegant – they’re nice well designed, elegant templates, and those, I think, can help keep your brand in people’s minds. And I think they’re tasteful, they work with your audience. But I think just going with big fancy HTML by default is a really bad choice.

Mike [30:00]: And looking through at the emails that they have in here, some of the ones that they have side-by-side, they’re not terribly long, and if your email has five or eight lines of content in it and two or three massive images in it, to me it seems like that’s a very different story than if you have a longer post or you are using those images to help convey some sort of a story. Because I think if you a thousand-word email or something like that with a bunch of images in there for illustrative purposes, I think that’s very different than if you have three or four lines of text that have these massive images in it. And the main content or main focus of that email is to show you an image. To me those emails don’t really resonate. I would rather see some content along with it. But again, it depends on what the purpose of those emails is.

Rob [30:45]: I agree. And as I said before, I think if you’re Pinterest or you’re recipe or food site or a real estate site, there are reasons where visuals really can light it up and they should be the focus of something. But I think in general, if people are consuming your content and they want to read your content, you should stick more towards plaint text looking and then have images as needed in the email to break up the text.

Mike [31:06]: So, I think the bottom line with most of this stuff is to whenever you see some sort of a best practice or a guide about, “This is the best day to do this,” or, “This is the best way to do that,” take it with a grain of salt and think about what it means for you and what it means for your audience. Because by the time something becomes a best practice, it is not going to stand out anymore. And that’s something that you have to keep in mind, and figure out whether or not it’s still relative for our audience.

Well, I think that about wraps us up for the day. If you have a question or comment for us, you can call it into our voicemail number at 1-888-801-9690 or you can email it to us at questions@startupsfortherestofus.com. Our theme music is an excerpt from We’re Outta Control by MoOt used under creative commons. Subscribe to us in iTunes by searching for Startups and visit StartupsForTheRestOfUs.com for full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time.

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