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14 Free WordPress Plugins to Build an Email List

Engaged email subscribers are a key revenue driver for many ecommerce companies. But building that list is not easy, with much inbox competition. Fortunately, WooCommerce and other WordPress users can select free plugins for successful email list building.

Here is a rundown of WordPress plugins to build an email list. There are tools for creating and automating pop-ups and opt-in forms, driving and managing newsletters subscriptions, capturing leads, and more. All of these plugins are free. Most offer premium plans as well.

Plugins to Build Email Lists

Sumo offers several tools to build an email list. Use the List Builder app to generate an email collection field after page load, after a mouse hovers, embedded within an article, as a call-to-action button, upon user scroll, and more. Sumo also offers a Welcome Mat, Smart Bar, and Share buttons for social. Sumo integrates with WooCommerce to create unique offers and discount forms. Price: Free up to 10,000 emails per month. Premium plans start at $39 per month.

Home page of SumoHome page of Sumo

Sumo

Icegram is a popular pop-up builder for lead capture, call to action, and email marketing. Use Icegram Engage to show the right messages at the right time. Capture leads using attractive pop-ups, slide-ins, opt-ins, and welcome bars. Access 50-plus free pop-up templates and action bar themes. Set up exit-intent pop-up campaigns, action bars, badges, stickies, inline opt-in, fullscreen overlay, ribbons, sidebar panel, and more. Price: Basic is free. Premium plans start at $97 per month.

Email Subscribers and Newsletters, from Icegram, is a newsletter plugin to collect leads and send automated post notifications and email broadcasts — and manage them in one place. Price: Basic is free. Premium plans start at $6.50 per month.

Rainmaker, another tool from Icegram, is a plugin for creating forms with ready-made templates. Display forms anywhere on your WordPress site using a shortcode. Rainmaker automatically saves all form submissions to the WordPress database. Connect your mailing list service, and automatically subscribe leads to a list. Price: Basic is free. Premium plans start at $2.25 per month.

Home page of RainmakerHome page of Rainmaker

Rainmaker

Newsletter is an email marketing system to create, send, and track emails and responsive newsletters. Utilize subscriber lists and advanced targeting with your campaigns. Manage user subscriptions, email automation, follow-up notifications, and list building. Price: Basic is free. Premium versions start at $69.

Optin Forms is a simple and easy-to-use opt-in form plugin for new subscribers. Choose from five unique layouts and customize to match your company’s brand. Integrates with major email services, including AWeber, iContact, Mailchimp, GetResponse, and more. Price: Free.

MailPoet is a plugin for creating, sending, and managing newsletters in WordPress. Add a subscription form to your site. Manage your subscribers and lists. Create and automate post notifications and welcome emails. Price: Free for the first 1,000 subscribers. Premium starts at $13 per month.

Home page of MailPoetHome page of MailPoet

MailPoet

Klaviyo helps businesses engage consumers across email, SMS, web, and in-app. Leverage Klaviyo’s free form builder. Build fly-outs, pop-ups, and embeds. Target forms to specific segments, devices, or pages. Use the library of pre-built forms and automated campaigns, such as drip messages, abandoned cart reminders, and sale promotions — or design your own. Price: Free for up to 500 emails to 250 contacts. Premium starts at $20 per month.

Hustle offers simple opt-in forms, targeted marketing pop-ups, and designer-made templates for different uses (e.g., Black Friday, giveaway, newsletter sign-up). Set up a range of behavior triggers for your pop-ups and slide-ins, and schedule when the messages deploy. Price: Free plan for one opt-in method. Pro plans start at $5 per month.

HubSpot offers several tools to build an email list. Create nearly any kind of form and pop-up using a simple drag-and-drop builder. Build responsive email newsletters inside WordPress, and nurture leads with automated campaigns. Manage your database with HubSpot’s free CRM, and group contacts with the built-in list builder. HubSpot comes with 20-plus pre-designed email templates. Price: Free.

Home page of HubSpotHome page of HubSpot

HubSpot

MailMunch lets you create an opt-in form as a pop-up, embed, top bar, scroll box, and sidebar. Apply themes, A/B testing, targeting, exit intent, and analytics. Sync your newsletter subscribers to Mailchimp, Constant Contact, AWeber, GetResponse, Campaign Monitor, and more. Price: Free. Premium is $13.99 per month.

AWeber is an email marketing platform with automated messaging, landing page builder, ecommerce pages, and web push notifications. Start with a pre-built template or drag-and-drop editor. Embed AWeber landing pages and sign-up forms on your WordPress site. Price: Free for up to 500 subscribers. Premium plans start at $16.15 per month.

MC4WP is a plugin to grow your Mailchimp lists and write better emails. Create attractive opt-in forms or integrate with any existing form on your site, such as comment, contact us, or checkout. Price: Free to 2,000 contacts. Premium plans start at $59 per year.

Sendinblue is an all-in-one email marketing platform. Create custom subscription forms and easily integrate them into your posts, pages, or sidebars to grow your list. Manage the list with advanced segmentation. Use the drag-and-drop builder or template library to create and send newsletters. Develop automated marketing and transactional emails. Price: Free up to 300 emails per day and unlimited contacts. Premium plans start at $25 per month.

Home page of SendinblueHome page of Sendinblue

Sendinblue

iOS 15: Impact on Email Marketing to Date

On Sept 20, 2021, Apple released iOS 15. Among its new features is “Mail Privacy Protection,” which does two things:

  • Automatically loads all images from emails,
  • Hides IP addresses and the location of email recipients.

For years, email service providers have embedded a hidden, 1×1-pixel image to track opens. That image was automatically downloaded by recipients when they opened an email, which providers then logged.

Now, however, all recipients on iOS 15 devices — iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches — register as an open, regardless of whether they took that action.

The result is inflated open rates.

Impact to Date

Apple iPhones are roughly 48% of the U.S. smartphone market. And in 2022 most email opens are on a phone — upwards to 75%. Thus approximately 36% of all U.S. email recipients (48% x 75%) could be using iOS 15.

The unknown is how many iOS 15 users have enabled Mail Privacy Protection. However, Apple’s description — “Protect Mail activity. Hide IP address and privately load all remote content” — likely entices most users to opt-in.

Consider the following scenario.

Email recipients, U.S.:

  • iOS 15: 36%
  • All others: 64%

Actual historical commercial open rate, average:

Open rates due to iOS 15, U.S.:

  • iOS users: 100%
  • All others: 20%
  • Total, blended: (36% x 100%) + (64% x 20%) = 48.8%

In short, an average commercial email list could report open rates of 48.8% due to iOS 15 instead of likely actual open rates of roughly 20%.

That calculation, however, assumes (i) all users of Apple mobile devices have upgraded to iOS 15, (ii) all have opted into Mail Privacy Protection, and (iii) all live in the U.S., where the iPhone has a 48% market share. Worldwide, the iPhone’s market share is roughly 15%.

Actual Open Rate Increases

The above example represents the maximum impact. But my clients — large corporations, mainly —  have seen open rates as roughly doubling, not to 48.8%.

Click rates for those clients have remained constant. However, click-to-open rates have decreased due to the artificially high percentage of opens.

Here are the averages I’ve seen among, again, large corporations.

Open Rates:

  • Before iOS 15: 6% – 12%
  • After:  18% – 25%

Click Rates:

  • Before and after: 1% – 4% (no change)

Click-to-open Rates:

  • Before: 7% – 15%
  • After: 1% – 5%

Strategy Implications

Testing email based on open rates is compromised. That includes subject lines, time of day, and day of week. However, an A/B test on, say, subject lines should still correctly identify the winner assuming the ratio of iOS 15 recipients is consistent for both groups. My clients continue to rely on A/B tests for that reason.

What would not be accurate is a test that compares subject lines from before and after iOS 15. An example is 2020 holiday emails versus 2021.

Customer journeys that rely on email opens are also compromised. For example, a journey flow is likely inaccurate if it sends a unique nurturing message to recipients who opened but did not click. All iOS 15 users would receive that message regardless of their actions.

A workaround for many senders is to use clicks to dictate the journey path. Some separate iOS 15 recipients from all others and create separate journey paths for each group. That separation is likely the best option if your email service provider can identify recipients’ devices.

Industry Reaction

Consumers generally support Mail Privacy Protection. However, email marketing professionals understand the unintended consequences. Before iOS 15, a consumer who never opened a commercial email would eventually stop receiving it. Not so afterward.

Moreover, open rates help marketers understand recipients’ preferences to adjust content and frequency accordingly. That, too, has gone away. As my colleague Armando Roggio has stated, vegetarians could now receive promotions for pulled pork.

How to Set Up a Paid Newsletter

Paid newsletters are driving profits in the creator economy. Podcasters, YouTube personalities, bloggers, musicians, business coaches, and the like are collectively called creators. Creators who are compensated directly or via a social platform represent the creator economy. And the creator economy is one of the fastest-growing forms of ecommerce.

Paid Newsletters

Paid newsletters are becoming popular, although they are just one of the ways creators are earning a living. Software-as-a-service platforms such as Substack, ConvertKit, Memberful, and Mailchimp have made it relatively easy for creators to sell newsletter subscriptions.

“We believe that what you read matters, and great writing is valuable. We’re building a future where writers can flourish by being paid directly by readers,” says the Substack home page.

How to Start

Value and a lack of advertising typically separate paid newsletters from free. When they pay for a newsletter, subscribers expect to get something of value in return.

Value. Identify what purpose the newsletter serves and what makes it valuable to the reader. Will the newsletter offer time-sensitive cryptocurrency tips? Will there be exclusive tutorials? How about detailed case studies?

For example, Indify’s Daily Flag is a paid subscription newsletter that uses social media data to identify artists who have the potential to become superstars. The newsletter is valuable among creators.

Screenshot of Indify's Daily Flag newsletterScreenshot of Indify's Daily Flag newsletter

Indify’s Daily Flag creates value for thousands of paying subscribers.

Audience. The value a newsletter offers is related to the audience it serves. Some creators build the audience first. Perhaps they have a podcast and have encouraged listeners to sign up for free notifications of new episodes. That audience might also be interested in a premium newsletter. So the creator will try to upgrade them.

Other creators use advertising to build an audience, either promoting a free email subscription and then seeking to upgrade the audience to paid or by using ads to promote the paid subscription directly.

Facebook Leads ads, for example, are a good way to get subscribers.

Price. Indify’s Daily Flag costs $50 per month. Lenny’s Newsletter, which covers product, growth, and business topics, runs $15 per month. The Bitcoin Forecast by Willy Woo is $150 per month.

The point is that newsletter subscription prices vary. The price is relative to the value for subscribers while also generating a profit. A creator could consider what competitors are charging or A/B test subscription prices to learn what works best. Some creators could charge more if they built the audience first.

Schedule. Develop a publication schedule and stick to it. Paying subscribers expect their email newsletter to arrive as promised. If the newsletter is supposed to go out every Monday, it had better arrive on that day.

It can be a good idea to practice building the newsletter. Determine how long it takes and what problems might arise during production.

The Grind

Researching, writing, and publishing a paid newsletter can feel like a grind.

Gary Vaynerchuk, the business and marketing guru, has repeatedly told creators to pay their dues and put in the hard work of audience building. Vaynerchuk began by publishing wine videos on YouTube five days a week for roughly six years.

Starting a paid newsletter will take persistence. Be prepared to compose newsletters even when there are few subscribers, putting in as much energy as when there are thousands.

The Platform

Creators looking to earn money with a newsletter need a method of composing, distributing, and getting paid.

Composing. That act of writing the newsletter can be done on Google Docs, Microsoft Word, or even a text editor.

Images can be edited and resized using Adobe Photoshop, Canva, or system tools such as Apple’s Preview.

Distributing. SaaS email platforms manage subscribers, provide formatting tools, and send newsletters. Specialty offerings such as Substack have built-in payment tools.

When selecting a platform, consider deliverability and fees.

First, the platform should have put the newsletter in subscribers’ inboxes 80% of the time or more on average. The newsletter content will impact deliverability, but the email provider can do a lot to help.

Second, understand all of the platform’s charges. How many subscribers and deployments are allowed on free plans? What features are included? How will fees increase as the number of subscribers grows?

Payment. Depending on the platform, payments can take a few forms.

  • Complete integration. Payment processing is built-in to the platform.
  • Close integration. The creator connects a Stripe or PayPal account to the platform.
  • No integration. The creator accepts payments and manually adds subscribers to the platform.

Each of these options has fees. For example, Substack charges 10% of the subscription price plus processing fees of about 2.9% + 30 cents per transaction.

If a creator had 1,000 subscribers paying $15 per month for $15,000 in gross revenue, Substack’s take would be roughly $2,135.

Charts: Global Email Volume, Users, Marketing

The world’s first email was sent in the early 1970s. Since then email has evolved into a vital digital marketing tool.

The number of global emails sent has climbed each year as the internet has become more accessible. Over 306 billion emails were sent daily in 2020. That number will rise to roughly 376.4 billion per day by 2025.

Despite the popularity of mobile messaging and chat apps, email remains an important element of everyday life. The number of global email users reached roughly 4 billion in 2020 and will likely climb to 4.6 billion by 2025. The worldwide population in January 2022 is approximately 7.9 billion.

Recipients are spending less time reading brand emails. From January to August 2021, global recipients spent an average of 10 seconds reading a single brand email. That reading time peaked in 2018 at 13.4 seconds per email before declining in recent years, leaving marketers with an even smaller window to engage readers.

Email Challenges, Tactics

Marketers have made strides in overcoming some of the challenges of email marketing. However, they continue to face difficulties. Validity (a data provider) and Demand Metric (a marketing platform) surveyed (PDF) email marketers worldwide from large and small companies — B2B and B2C — to examine their challenges and tactics.

According to the survey report, marketers in 2020 were less likely to use basic email marketing tactics such as deliverability optimization and list management compared to 2019.

Holiday Email Marketing Trends, Examples for 2021

It’s the busiest time for email marketing. Retailers are preparing and sending their holiday campaigns. Most use proven, tried-and-true email tactics.

In this post, I’ll review a few email marketing examples in this 2021 season from leading retailers.

Eddie Bauer

Eddie Bauer is applying several proven email marketing practices. First is a “cart starter” to initiate the purchase process, beginning with the subject line: “Here’s $10 To Start Your Holiday Shopping!” It has a dual purpose of a $10 savings and a reminder to get started.

Consumers have endless choices for buying gifts. Deciding factors are typically price, convenience, availability, selection, and quality. Enticing shoppers to populate a cart facilitates abandoned cart reminders if necessary. And auto-loading a coupon code or gift offer can close sales.

Screenshot of an Eddie Bauer holiday emailScreenshot of an Eddie Bauer holiday email

This subject line from an Eddie Bauer email — “Here’s $10 To Start Your Holiday Shopping!” — has a dual purpose of a $10 savings and a reminder to get started.

Upping the email frequency is another proven practice. Thus far, Eddie Bauer has gone from sending a few weekly emails to daily to, most recently, twice a day.

Screenshot of an email inbox showing many Eddie Bauer emails.Screenshot of an email inbox showing many Eddie Bauer emails.

Eddie Bauer has gone from sending a few weekly emails to daily to, most recently, twice a day.

An Adweek survey found that 99% of consumers check their email at least daily. Many check upwards of 20 times per day. A subscriber could easily miss, say, a morning email. But an afternoon message could catch her attention.

Increasing the frequency requires variations on subject lines, preheaders, and body copy. Do not resend the same or similar email more than once daily. Moreover, unique content improves deliverability. Similar (or exact) subject lines from the same sender can trip spam algorithms to block the deployment. Emails from Eddie Bauer have unique subject lines, body copy, offers.

Loft

Loft, the women’s clothing retailer, emphasizes its rewards program in holiday emails, another proven strategy. Rewards encourage loyalty and repeat purchases. The most effective programs allow flexibility as to when and where consumers access the rewards offers.

Sample email from Loft for rewards points.Sample email from Loft for rewards points.

Loft lets rewards shoppers decide when they shop and on what channel.

Costco

Shoppers in 2021 are mindful of inventory shortages and delivery delays. Costco and many other retailers have responded by launching early holiday promotions. Costco’s example email below features a variety of products as many shoppers are unsure what gift to buy.

Plus, a Deloitte survey found that 51% of consumers will purchase something for themselves while shopping for others. Bundled offers — such as buy one, get one free — encourage this behavior.

Screenshot of a holiday email promotion from Costco Screenshot of a holiday email promotion from Costco

Retailer Costco started holiday email promotions on November 1.

Shutterfly

Direct physical mail can complement email promotions and drive online traffic. I’ve seen direct mail campaigns produce a 20% lift in conversions. Direct mail during the holidays can also reach procrastinating shoppers.

Shutterfly deploys direct mail to great effect, as shown in the image below of a physical postcard.

Image of a postcard reading "Holiday Cards and Gifts"Image of a postcard reading "Holiday Cards and Gifts"

This physical postcard from Shutterfly complements email campaigns and drives traffic to the company’s website.

Navigating Email Marketing without Open Rates

Apple rolled out iOS 15 on Sept. 20, 2021. The release provides users of iOS devices — iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch — the ability to load remote content privately, blocking the sender’s ability to track opens.

I’ve addressed iOS 15 twice, explaining its likely effect on email marketing and steps to prepare. In this post, I’ll review the impact thus far, including how marketers should adust moving forward.

Open Rates

First, it’s important to revisit how open rates have never been accurate. Email software embeds a 1-pixel image to capture an open. A recipient who opens an email unwittingly loads that image, which the software tracks. The software doesn’t count opens; it counts image downloads.

It’s a less-than-perfect way to measure opens. It cannot capture:

  • Emails that allow recipients to read without downloading images.
  • Text-only emails.
  • HTML emails in a preview pane without images loaded.

Some email client software uses text-only messages by default. Examples include smartwatches, gaming devices, and voice assistants. None of those have captured opens since they do not download images.

iOS 15’s Mail Privacy Protection automatically reports every email as having been opened. Thus users who have enacted that protection on their iPhones report as an open, actual or not. Apple iOS accounts for roughly 48% of mobile devices worldwide. And upwards of 80% of email opens occur on mobile devices. The impact, therefore, is potentially substantial.

iOS 15

Brands with a higher percentage of mobile users will experience more inflated open rates. Brands with mostly desktop recipients will see less of an impact. Among my clients at Acxiom, open rates since Sept. 20 have increased by 10-20%. I’m aware of brands with increases of 50% or more.

Regardless, the immediate feedback of instant open rates will likely go away. This includes the testing of subject lines. Marketers have long relied on testing the words, phrases, and timing that prompt recipients to open.

Now, with iOS 15, it’s difficult to A/B test subject lines on, say, 20% of a list and send the version with the highest open rate to the remaining 80%.

Nonetheless, marketers and email service providers are experimenting with workarounds. Litmus, for example, separates iOS metrics from others, providing senders with what it calls “reliable” data. This helps in the short term for marketers dependent on open rates.

However, the longer-term effect is likely to wean marketers from instant email feedback and focus, instead, on engagement metrics such as clicks and conversions.  Both are largely unaffected by iOS 15, although the click-to-open rate will be inaccurate.

Screenshot of the tool from Litmus showing opens on Apple iOS 15 devices versus other email clients.Screenshot of the tool from Litmus showing opens on Apple iOS 15 devices versus other email clients.

Litmus’s tool separates opens on Apple iOS 15 from other email client software, helping marketers during the transition.

Moving Forward

Ecommerce email-marketing metrics, post iOS 15, will measure what matters: the impact on sales. Subject lines, body copy, timing — all ultimately impact conversions. Tracking an email’s open rates will shift to monitoring its effect on profits.

A Perfect Storm for 2021 Holiday Email Marketing

Labor shortages, pent-up consumer demand, and supply chain disruptions could dramatically impact retailers this holiday season. Those developments, coupled with privacy changes on Apple’s new iOS 15, mean email marketers face a perfect storm of uncertainty.

Holiday 2021 Email

Start early.  I’ve stressed over the years the importance of early preparation for holiday email marketing. It’s especially critical in 2021, given the likelihood of delays. Review prior years’ email campaign dates and start at least one week earlier.

For example, in 2019 Black Friday occurred on Nov. 29. If you launched promotions one week before (Nov. 22), start them two weeks in advance this year (Nov. 12). Moreover, communicate to shoppers deadline dates for guaranteed delivery by Dec. 25. Include those dates in email and other marketing efforts, as well as on product detail pages. Holiday “final order” dates spur conversions in my experience.

Avoid delivery bottlenecks. Black Friday and Cyber Monday — Nov. 26 and 29 this year — are typically the heaviest volume for holiday email marketing. Seemingly every retailer is competing for consumers’ inboxes. An unfortunate consequence is reduced bandwidth among email servers, resulting in more soft bounces and delayed or undelivered messages.

Beyond deploying campaigns early, consider these tactics:

  • Use simple layouts with minimal dynamic messaging to reduce pre-send processing.
  • Avoid large images and animated GIFs to lower file size.
  • Check your domain and IP reputation frequently.
  • Shun new sending patterns that could harm your domain or IP reputation. An example is deploying a large reactivation campaign to dormant subscribers immediately before Thanksgiving, which could spur spam complaints and thus lower reputation scores.

Sync with social and display campaigns. Email can help the performance of other marketing channels such as social media, display ads, and even direct mail.

Those channels can also help grow subscribers. Take the example below from Grove, which sells sustainable household goods. Grove’s Facebook ad encourages readers to “Join 2,000,000…” subscribers.

Screenshot of a Grove Facebook ad showing household productsScreenshot of a Grove Facebook ad showing household products

This Facebook ad from Grove targets new email signups — “Join 2,000,000…” subscribers.

Offer a gift guide via email. Consumers don’t often know what to buy until they see it. Including a representation of a gift guide in the body of an email allows recipients to shop without clicking, at least initially. The guide could include gift ideas with reminders, again, of final-order dates.

Screenshot of an email gift guide from J.Crew — "shop Gifts for Her."Screenshot of an email gift guide from J.Crew — "shop Gifts for Her."

J.Crew delivered this gift guide via email. “Shop Gifts for Her,” the email reads.

Emphasize loyalty and rewards. Repeat customers are the lifeblood of successful ecommerce companies. Many rely on well-structured rewards or loyalty programs.

Take Old Navy, for example. After nearly every purchase, “Navyist Rewards” members immediately receive $10 or $20 in “super cash” that expires, typically, in one week. Kohl’s uses a similar approach.

Screenshot of a Old Navy email with a $20 loyalty club reward. Screenshot of a Old Navy email with a $20 loyalty club reward.

Old Navy sends “super cash” rewards to loyalty-club members immediately after each purchase. This example is for $20.

Apple iOS 15

Apple iOS 15 is available Monday, Sept. 19. I’ve addressed that update and its likely dramatic effect on email marketing. Apple will no longer automatically report tracking pixels (which is how email marketing platforms measure opens) without the recipient’s consent. Instead, Apple will, by default, report all emails as having been opened.

Thus heading into the 2021 holiday season, email open rates reported by providers — Mailchimp, Mailup, HubSpot, others — will likely be inflated. Marketers should repurpose all auto campaigns that rely on opens.

Also, iOS 15’s new “Hide My Email” feature allows users to sign up for offers with a temporary, alternate email address, thus hiding a user’s permanent address. The result could be an influx of new subscribers who could quickly unsubscribe or go dormant. Moving forward, ramp up list hygiene and data cleansing to combat bad addresses.

5 Ways Apple’s Email Privacy Impacts Marketing

As early as September 2021, Apple’s mobile email apps may hide a recipient’s internet protocol address, making it difficult or impossible to measure open rates and track user behavior.

Apple announced its new email privacy initiative on June 7, 2021, as part of its forthcoming iOS 15 operating system.

“Privacy has been central to our work at Apple from the very beginning,” said Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering. “Every year, we push ourselves to develop new technology to help users take more control of their data and make informed decisions about whom they share it with.”

[embedded content]

Since then, email experts have sought to understand how this change will impact marketing, given that Apple’s email applications combined had about 48% of the total global email client market as of July 2021, according to Litmus.

Clicks and Conversions

Most email service providers embed tracking pixels in email messages. These pixels help identify when a recipient has opened an email.

For users who choose to “Protect Mail Activity” in iOS 15, Apple will use a caching server to open emails and provide a general IP address back to the email service providers rather than a specific one that could identify a recipient’s location.

This caching will dramatically inflate open rates, perhaps even sending them to 100% for some businesses.

Screenshot from Litmus of a diagram showing flow of email on Apple iOS 15 devicesScreenshot from Litmus of a diagram showing flow of email on Apple iOS 15 devices

Email messages will be routed through a caching or proxy server, as shown in this diagram from Litmus.

Even if some users choose not to hide their IP or activity, it would be difficult to differentiate them, thus making open rates far less meaningful.

This change will impact how some email marketing campaigns are run. But by no means is it the end of email effectiveness.

“As marketers, we looked at the open rate, but it wasn’t the most critical metric,” said Melissa Sargeant, chief marketing officer at Litmus, a provider of email tools and services.

In place of open rates, marketers will likely use clicks and conversions. Both will remain available after iOS 15 is released, according to Sargeant.

Moreover, clicks and conversions may be more meaningful than opens and might lead to better email marketing.

To prepare for iOS 15, marketers should look at clicks and conversions now.

Testing

“You have to think of this change in Apple Mail beyond just the open rate in terms of what it will influence in an email marketing program. For example, it’s going to impact A/B tests that use open rates to determine the winner,” said Sargeant.

In hindsight, using the open rate in an A/B test was probably not the best choice anyway. The purpose of most email campaigns is clicks and conversions, not opens.

Here is an extreme (and unlikely) scenario to make the point. Imagine a business that sells framed wildlife photography. You could build a subject line test with the following two options.

  • “Amazing Animal Portraits”
  • “Nude Photos Enclosed”

Measuring the open rate here is useless. For some audiences, “Nude Photos Enclosed” would significantly outperform the alternative. But those folks would not likely click when they open the message and find images of squirrels and deer.

Thus iOS 15’s email apps might actually be for the better, especially for ecommerce.

Automated Workflows

Many automated email workflows include open rates.

Marketers that use open rate as a trigger in a nurturing campaign or some other form of lifecycle marketing should revisit those campaigns soon, ideally before iOS 15 is released.

Even if the open rate is not a trigger, it could impact a segment or cohort that the workflow uses, such as a segment that includes a last open date.

This is especially important for list hygiene workflows since the inflated open rate could make unengaged recipients appear active.

Dynamic Content

Inflated open rates and the loss of IP addresses will also impact some forms of email personalization and localization, according to Sargeant.

For example, some ecommerce emails include dynamic product lists. These lists show shoppers relevant and in-stock items when an email is opened. Apple’s new email privacy makes these hard to do.

It could also impact location-based personalization. An omnichannel retailer may have included local store information based on IP address. After iOS 15, that IP address won’t be accurate for mobile Apple Mail users.

Marketers will want to evaluate how they have been using dynamic content and ensure the forthcoming changes won’t impact them.

Hence iOS 15 represents a trade-off between privacy and relevancy. Consumers will gain more control over their email privacy, but the content in their inbox could be less relevant.

Customer Data

In general, the trend toward more personal privacy online — including changes to tracking cookies and app identifiers — has driven marketers to collect more so-called first-party data. Rather than using tracking networks to identify customer behavior and preferences, businesses are learning more about customers directly.

“Consumers are going to engage with a brand not just from emails. They will interact through SMS or push notifications, video, voice, in-app, sales calls, the entire ecosystem. That is where you bring it all together to have a more holistic view and not rely on a single open-rate metric,” said Sargeant, whose company recently launched an Apple audience report to help businesses collect baseline data for customers using an Apple email app.

Collecting shopper insights in this way could provide better info in the long run.

The Essentials of High-performing Emails

Creative content is the cornerstone of a successful email campaign, driving opens, clicks, and purchases. In this post, I’ll review the essential creative components of high-performing campaigns.

The Basics

The first step is an effective email template. The fundamentals include:

  • Layout. Single-column designs are the easiest to optimize for mobile devices.
  • Text and images. In my experience, the best emails are roughly 60% images and 40% text.
  • Dimensions. A width of 400 to 600 pixels renders well across all devices. Length can vary based on the message, but longer emails increase load times.
  • Fonts. Stick to popular fonts such as Arial, Calibri, Georgia, Times New Roman, and Verdana. Lesser-used fonts will not function well across all email programs.
  • Size: Keep the file size under 100 KB. The smaller the size, the quicker the email will load and the higher the likelihood that recipients will read the content.
  • Code. Emails must render well on all devices — desktops, tablets, smartphones. Smartphones now account for as much as 75% of all opens. Avoid excess HTML or tags that can trigger spam filters. Use a plain-text editor to copy and paste text, not Microsoft Word or similar, which could cause hidden formatting errors. Never include JavaScript or Flash, as they are not supported in email clients. And avoid embedded forms.
  • Regulatory requirements. Include in the footer an unsubscribe link and your company’s physical mailing address — the U.S. CAN-SPAM Act requires both.

Overall Design

Marketing emails should be simple, clean, and easy to read.

  • Headings, subheadings, and white space help organize the message. Isolate the call-to-action to stand out.
  • Fonts should be no less than 12 to 14 pixels on desktops, 16 pixels on smartphones.
  • Colors. The fewer, the better — no more than three.

The design should always support the four W’s:

  • Who the email is from.
  • Why it is relevant to the recipient.
  • When the recipient should take action.
  • What to do next.

The clearer you convey these four elements, the better chances of conversion.

Images

  • Width. Images can be wider than the template (for higher resolution) and then sized down using the image attributes or CSS.
  • Alt text will display when an image does not load or is blocked by the user. Alt text should therefore carefully describe the image to help users understand its purpose.
  • Include people. In my experience, images containing people outperform those that don’t.
  • Relevancy. Make sure the image supports the purpose of the email.
Screenshot of a Shopilicious email with 4 images and minimal textScreenshot of a Shopilicious email with 4 images and minimal text

This template example from Shopilicious has a good ratio of images to text. Also, the call-to-action (“Shop Now”) is near the top, providing a clear direction for the recipient.

Video and GIFs

Videos and animated GIFs can encourage clicks. But not all email clients support video streaming in the template itself. This includes Outlook and Gmail. The best work-around is to include an image with a play button overlaid that links to a web-hosted video. (However, roughly half of email providers support embedded HTML5 video.)

Screenshot of an email from Everlane showing a female modeling clothes with a video botton on top of the imageScreenshot of an email from Everlane showing a female modeling clothes with a video botton on top of the image

Everlane shows a play button on top of an image in this email. Clicking the button takes the user to the hosted video.

All email clients support animated GIFs. But keep the file size to 1 MB or less.

Screenshot of an animated GIF email from Starbucks showing all four pane.Screenshot of an animated GIF email from Starbucks showing all four pane.

All email clients support animated GIFs, such as this example from Starbucks.

Mobile Optimization

Responsive email design will automatically adjust the template to the recipient’s device. Other helpful mobile practices include:

  • The call-to-action button should be large enough to click with a finger (at least 44 x 44 pixels with 16-pixel minimum font size) and as close to the top as practical.
  • Single column formatting only.
  • Line spacing of at least 1.5 times larger than font size to create sufficient white space.
  • The logo should be top center or top left.

Apple’s iOS 15 Could Improve Email Marketing

When it’s released this fall, Apple’s iOS 15 could make capturing some email marketing metrics more difficult, which might improve performance.

On June 7, 2021, Apple described some of the new privacy features it would offer in its forthcoming operating systems for the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Mac computers — specifically iOS 15, iPadOS 15, watchOS 8, and macOS Monterey. The changes to the iPhone might be the most impactful given the number of individuals who read emails on that device.

New Email Privacy

The Apple operating system privacy updates will impact email tracking — and by association email marketing — in three ways, according to Val Geisler, a customer evangelist at email service provider Klaviyo.

  • More Apple users will know they can hide their email addresses.
  • Apple will hide IP addresses.
  • Apple users can opt out of email tracking.

Hidden email address. The first of these features, according to Geisler, has been available to Apple customers for some time, but Apple will promote it more prominently to users and make access easier.

An Apple support article from December 2020 described the process of hiding an email address as “a unique, random email address is created, so your personal email address isn’t shared with the app or website developer during the account setup and sign-in process.”

Hiding an email address may make it relatively more difficult for list consolidators or even individual businesses to build customer profiles and track behavior across websites or apps.

No IP address. Apple’s Mail app will not share a user’s Internet Protocol (IP) address, making it difficult to identify a user’s location and thus build a profile of that person.

No email tracking. For more than 20 years, email marketing platforms have placed invisible tracking pixels on outgoing email marketing messages, allowing these companies to track unique and gross open rates.

But not everyone likes being tracked. So Apple will allow folks reading email on iOS 15 the chance to opt out of tracking, meaning marketers won’t see open rates from those recipients.

Better Marketing

Email marketing professionals can view Apple’s privacy updates as a hurdle or obstacle to doing their jobs. But the changes might make email marketing better and more effective. Better privacy for consumers could require marketers to do a better job of understanding and segmenting subscribers.

Consider the email open rate, which is, perhaps, the most notable casualty of Apple’s proposed privacy improvements.

List health. What does an open actually measure?

“While opens can be an indicator of the awareness you’ve generated around a particular message,” wrote Chad S. White, head of research at Oracle Marketing Consulting, “they don’t necessarily correlate to bottom-of-the-funnel business metrics like conversions and revenue. They don’t do a great job telling you if your subscribers are getting value out of your emails. Clicks and conversions do a much better job of measuring that.”

While some suggest that open rates may help with subject line optimization, White disagreed.

“The goal of subject lines isn’t to generate opens. It’s to generate openers who are likely to convert,” he wrote, adding that A/B testing subject lines to optimize for clicks was a better strategy.

Opens, according to White, are primarily a measurement of list health and subscriber activity.

But do you need it? Instead of relying on open rates, what if you relied on clicks as a measurement of engagement? It might work better.

Accuracy. What’s more, open rates may or may not be accurate.

Apple’s Mail app will prevent tracking simply by not loading the spy pixel. Effectively, anyone can already do this in just about any email client by not automatically loading images. Here are five articles describing just how to do it.

Many factors come into play here, but, in at least some cases, it may be difficult to identify the percentage of subscribers in a list or a segment whose email client is not loading images. So, again, it might be better to measure clicks instead.

Clicks and Conversions

In short:

  • Clicks and conversions are better at measuring subscriber value,
  • Clicks are better for subject line optimization,
  • And clicks are more accurate than opens.

Thus, email marketers might better understand their subscribers and customers when they stop using open rates.