5 lessons learned through email experimentation

Boost your engagement

We love email. We love to help you send beautiful, inspired emails that get results. And you know what? We’ve learned some things. Valuable things about email experimentation that we want to share with you.

1. Email frequency makes a difference

In the past, we aimed for sending an email newsletter once a month. But there weren’t firm deadlines — and we might have some perfectionistic tendencies — so the newsletter usually went out less often. For instance, we sent our first two newsletters of 2014 on January 16 and March 14.

But it seemed like we had just sent one. Sound familiar? Time flies when you’re having fun building a business.

It wasn’t until June that we got serious about sending more frequently. In fact, we decided to try something drastic. Instead of sending once every four, five, six (or eight) weeks, we decided to send once a week! Whoa. What would our readers think?

Initially, we did see a decline in our view rates. We went from a 20% view rate to more like 16%. Hmmm … that wasn’t the goal. Or was it?

When we analyzed how many unique readers we reached in each month of 2014, this is what we found.

Email Experimentation View Rate

Note: We didn’t send in May.

By sending several newsletters per month, we connected with many more customers. And because we strive to send helpful content to help people with their own email marketing efforts, we hope this will have a positive effect on customer retention. Guess what?

2. Insanely useful content leads to high engagement

Readers don’t want bland content, period. This is true whether you’re selling a physical product or offering a service.

We’ve discovered that our readers love product shortcuts and tricks. They want actionable hacks — easy ideas they can try out instantly with their own email experimentation.

On August 11, we sent an email with the subject line, “Which of these email hacks do you use?” This email had a 20% view rate and the highest engagement rate we’ve ever seen. Plus, a ton of blog comments.

But the most interesting thing? It got people sending emails!

During the week of August 11, we saw a 38% increase in the number of people who sent an email. Lesson learned: insanely useful content leads to high engagement, both in terms of interacting with our newsletter and using our product.

3. Variety is the spice of life

While you want your readers to know what you expect from you — high-quality content on your topic of expertise — you don’t want them to get bored.

In March, we saw a nice boost in engagement with our Pop-Art-inspired newsletter. We drew people in with an edgy subject line, “Email Newsletters are Boring. But This One Pops.” The fun visuals in the email and the bright red links definitely got people clicking.

Since then, we’ve continued to try different visual approaches in our newsletters. Sure, we’ve retained our lovely branding. But we don’t want every email to look exactly the same. Our readers are busy people, and we want to keep it fun for them!

4. Subject lines are key

Tip 1: Use trigger words. Our audience includes lots of solopreneurs and small business owners. They pay attention when we mention words like “Google,” “tribe,” and “entrepreneurship.”

This very successful newsletter’s subject line was, “How to Make Your Emails Google-Friendly.”

What words catch the attention of your tribe?

Tip 2: Ask questions. We recently started to experiment with subject lines phrased as questions.

For instance, rather than, “How to Write a Great Twitter Bio,” we used “Could your Twitter bio be even better?” We could have used, “10 Awesome Email Marketing Hacks,” but we chose the more intriguing, “Which of these email hacks do you use?”

The idea? Get people thinking about how the subject relates to them. So it’s not a newsletter about hypothetical Twitter bios — it’s about your Twitter bio.

5. Too many links can be a distraction

After we got into the swing of sending our newsletter once a week, we asked ourselves, “How else can we make this more awesome?”
The answer was a bit counterintuitive, but we decided to try extreme simplicity. We distilled our text to one simple call to action, and we reduced the number of links from 9-16 per email to a single link. One!

And you know what? More people clicked! We thought we’d been providing people with options — lots of great content to read — but maybe that was just a little too LOUD.

In the month we sent just FOUR links between FOUR newsletters combined — August — we set a record for unique people engaged in a month.

Email Experimentation Engagement Rate

We introduced the one-link format with this email: “Uninspired? Write great emails anyway!” The copy was a bit edgy, and tons of people clicked through to the blog post.

We used the same streamlined format for our successful “hacks” email. Simplicity works!

Moral of the story? Use email experimentation!

Try any or all of the following types of email experimentation, and see what happens:

  • Send more frequently
  • Shake up your visuals
  • Use trigger words in your subject lines
  • Phrase your subject lines as questions
  • Include only one call to action with one link

The key? Don’t try all of these at once! You want to be able to look at your stats and have a pretty good idea of what made the difference when your view rate or engagement rate spikes.

Happy email experimentation!


Also published on Medium.

Emma Wilhelm
Emma Wilhelm loves punchy words and uphill battles. She’s a proud member of the GoDaddy GoCentral team. When she’s offline, she relishes long runs, baked goods and dance parties with her kids. Follow her on Twitter at @emmasota.