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Designing Emails to Drive Clicks and Conversions

Email design has evolved to reflect changes in technology and consumer behavior. The goal is to elicit the desired action from the recipient, such as a click or conversion. In this post, I’ll address tips on designing high-performing emails for ecommerce.

Every email marketing message should contain specific elements. For U.S. senders, the message must be compliant with the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, which requires a clear unsubscribe link and a valid “from” address that is representative of the sender.

Beyond those requirements, the message and images are up to the marketer, so long as both are not misleading to the recipients. Common design elements include:

  • Logo or brand name, linked to the home page;
  • A primary image;
  • Text-based message (not embedded in an image);
  • A thoughtful balance of text and images;
  • Clear call-to-action;
  • Contact information and social media accounts;
  • Compelling “From” line, subject line, and preheader.

An email template can help streamline the production process. A consistent template also helps recipients navigate and respond to the message.

Email Templates

In my experience, a visual hierarchy produces the best layouts. Images are powerful. They impact recipients’ actions and attitudes. Templates should reflect the natural way people comprehend and interpret information, such as an inverted V pattern with a large image on top, then text, and then a call-to-action.

A marketing email from Costco with an inverted "V" design.

This email from Costco uses an inverted “V” design.

Another popular layout is a “Z” pattern, where the recipients read left to right, mimicking standard reading patterns.

This email from Rite Aid uses a "Z" design pattern.

This email from Rite Aid uses a “Z” design pattern.

Hero section. The so-called “hero” section of an email typically appears just under the logo and top navigation. It conveys the main objective of the email. Hero text should be large enough to read easily. Buttons should facilitate a finger on mobile.

This "hero" example from Famous Footwear is easy to read and conveys the overall theme. 

This “hero” example from Famous Footwear is easy to read and conveys the overall theme.

White space. Adequate white space around an image, text, and call-to-action is critical. It makes the entire message less intimidating and easier to digest, especially on mobile.

Buttons. Again, all buttons should be large enough for a finger on a smartphone and not too close. Many designers utilize a “bulletproof button.” It is not an image. It’s text on top of a background, such as a solid color. This enables recipients to read the call-to-action if images are turned off or take too long to download.  Campaign Monitor, for example, offers a widget for building bulletproof buttons.

Experiment and Test

Maintaining email design consistency can help recipients know what to expect. But change is good, too, to avoid design fatigue. Test new design layouts against performance — opens, clicks, conversions.

One idea is testing “dark mode” in an email.  That’s a setting on smartphones wherein users swap light colors for dark and vice versa. The purpose is to preserve battery life and ease viewing in low-light situations. Certainly all emails should by default render well in dark mode. But marketers can also test a native dark version with white text on a dark or black background.

Another test is inserting interactive or dynamic content, such as animated buttons, product carousels, countdown timers, surveys, or polls. Accelerated Mobile Pages (“AMP”) for email was introduced in 2018 to integrate live or custom content into the body of an email. AMP has not taken off due to limited support from email service providers. But Gmail does support it. I’ve addressed the possibilities at “Does ‘AMP for Email’ Impact Ecommerce?

2020 Holiday Email Marketing Starts Early

With the fluid retail environment surrounding Covid-19, protocols and expectations change daily. According to Coresight Research, a consulting firm, 23 percent of U.S. consumers plan to start 2020 holiday shopping earlier than in prior years. Ecommerce merchants should plan holiday email marketing now.

Early Marketing

Consider:

  • Moving up last year’s email marketing schedule by two to three weeks.
  • Emphasizing potential product scarcity. The pandemic has conditioned shoppers to the possibility of items being unavailable.
  • Offering short-lived email promotions to encourage orders and avoid shipping delays.

This holiday season will presumably see a decrease in travel, holiday parties, and in-person buying. Online shopping will likely increase. Product availability could be limited, and shipping could be slower.

  • Clearly explain offer and shipping deadlines. In every holiday-marketing email, provide order-by dates to guarantee arrival before the holidays.
  • Create triggered emails to alert shoppers about product availability when inventory runs low. Most email marketing platforms offer trigger-based notifications that tie to product views on your site.
  • Compose and save last-minute email offers now in case shipping delays dictate a shift in deployment dates.
Create triggered emails to alert shoppers about product availability when inventory runs low. This example is from Zulily, which sells clothing and home goods online.

Create triggered emails to alert shoppers about product availability when inventory runs low. This example is from Zulily, which sells clothing and home goods online.

Confirm Deliverability

Many consumers have changed or otherwise left jobs during the pandemic. Email addresses have likely changed, too. Cleaning your email list could be more important than ever this holiday season. Options include (i) email verification services to ensure addresses are active and deliverable, and (ii) email change-of-address firms to locate new addresses from undeliverables.

Email providers — Gmail, Yahoo, many more — frequently change deliverability algorithms that determine whether a marketing message lands in a subscriber’s main inbox versus spam. Those algorithms are typically a combination of a domain and IP reputation as well as subscribers’ interactions with a brand’s emails. Positive engagement, such as frequent opens and clicks, will lead to better inbox placement.

A sudden algorithm change by, say, Gmail could be catastrophic to a retailer if it causes all messages to be filtered to the spam or junk folder.

To help ensure deliverability:

  • Monitor open and click rates by subscribers’ domain, such as mary@gmail.com or bob@yahoo.com. This will quickly surface drop-offs from Gmail or Yahoo or any other domain.
  • Maintain a consistent sending volume and schedule. Abrupt changes in volume or frequency can cause domains to block or filter your email temporarily.
  • Check your sending IP and domain reputation weekly on Sender Score from Return Path.
  • Monitor blacklists to avoid an accidentally listing. Even the most reputable email senders occasionally get listed on blacklists and must act to be removed.
  • Remove or segregate non-responsive email addresses.

Creative Offers

The demand for certain products has changed due to the pandemic. This year’s holiday gift-giving will likely be different from 2019. Create product or gift suggestions that solve the problem of remote, distant giving. This can be as simple as personalized gift-wrapping or custom gift baskets.

Remember that most email opens are on smartphones. Increasingly, purchases are on a phone, too. Make email content easy to click from the mobile device, to land directly on pages deep in the purchase funnel.

13 Robust Newsletter Plugins for WordPress

WordPress is a highly customizable content management system. With the right plugins, it can be a robust email marketing platform to create a newsletter and build a list of subscribers.

Here is a list of newsletter plugins for WordPress. There are plugins to design and publish newsletters, manage subscribers, track campaigns, and build subscriber lists using opt-in and lead generation tools.

Newsletter Plugins for WordPress

The Newsletter Plugin is a newsletter and email marketing system for a WordPress site. It features a responsive email drag-and-drop composer, unlimited subscribers with statistics, unlimited emails with tracking, advanced targeting, and more. Add features through premium extensions, such as automated newsletters from blog posts, autoresponders, sophisticated collection and targeting statistics, and advanced integrations. Price: Basic is free. Premium plans start at $65 for all extensions and one year of updates.

The Newsletter Plugin

The Newsletter Plugin

SendPress lets you easily build email newsletters in WordPress. Import post content from your site and schedule newsletter deployments. Create custom templates. Track opens, clicks, and more. SendPress features customizable templates, unlimited subscribers, and single and double opt-in, among other benefits. Price: Basic is free. Premium plans start at $39 per year.

Sumo provides tools to capture email addresses to grow subscribers. Use List Builder to create pop-ups that appear on clicks, timers, articles, and before people leave. Create call-to-action landing pages, customizable scroll boxes, and smart bars to capture subscribers without disrupting their experience. Integrates with major email services and, also, with WooCommerce to create unique offers and discounts along with forms to increase average order value and reduce cart abandonment. Price: Basic is free for up to 10,000 email subscribers per month. Premium plans start at $39 per month.

MailPoet lets you build, schedule, and send newsletters without leaving your WordPress admin. Manage subscribers and subscriber lists. Create automatic emails to send new post notifications. MailPoet includes audience engagement stats and WooCommerce email customizer. Premium version includes tracking, white-labeling, and same-day support. Price: Basic is free. Premium plans start at $13 per month. Premium version is free for fewer than 1,000 subscribers.

MailPoet

MailPoet

Mailchimp for WordPress helps you grow your Mailchimp lists and create better newsletters. Create attractive opt-in forms or integrate with existing forms on your site, such as comment, contact, or checkout forms. Premium add-on includes advanced integration with WooCommerce, email notifications, and detailed reports and statistics. Price: Free. Premium plans start at $59 per year.

Email Subscribers by Icegram lets you collect leads, send automated notification emails, create and send newsletters, and manage it all in one single place. Add images, infographics, links, and content to a newsletter. Insert a subscription box anywhere on your website. Send the newsletters manually or automatically. Price: Basic is free. Premium plans start at $9 per month.

Newsletters by Tribulant Software is a full-featured newsletter plugin for WordPress to manage email subscribers and publish newsletters. It features templates, queue and scheduling, bounced-email management, opt-in embedding, offsite subscription forms, email tracking, autoresponders, and more. Price: Basic is free. Premium plans start at $65 for one website and one year of updates.

Tribulant Software: Newsletters for WordPress

Tribulant Software: Newsletters for WordPress

Bloom is an email opt-in and lead generation plugin for WordPress. Pick from six display types, including pop-ups, fly-ins, and required opt-ins to unlock content. Target or exclude specific posts and pages and display unique forms with unique offers based on visitor location and interaction. Integrates with 19 email-marketing platforms. Price: $89 per year.

OptinMonster is a pop-up builder and marketing plugin to increase your newsletter subscribers. Create custom pop-ups, newsletter opt-in forms, slide-ins pop-ups, announcement bars, and other high converting lead generation forms within minutes. Display personalized messages to new or returning visitors to unlock the highest conversion potential from every website visit. Use A/B split testing and pop-up analytics to make data-driven decisions on what works best. Price: Plans start at $14 per month.

Mailster lets you easily create, manage, and send newsletter campaigns. Track and analyze your campaigns and subscribers. Mailster stores all your subscribers within your WordPress installation. Features autoresponder, real-time analytics, unlimited subscribers and forms, custom segmentation, more than 80 templates, and integrations with dozens of plugins and services. Price: $59 for six months of support.

Mailster

Mailster

Jackmail allows you to create newsletters without leaving your WordPress dashboard and send them with a built-in SMTP server. Create segments in your lists and send personalized campaigns. Jackmail features a drag-and-drop editor, contact manager, detailed statistics, WooCommerce integration, opt-in forms, widgets, 48 templates, and more. Price: Free up to 500 emails. Premium plans start at $69 per month.

Popup Builder is a flexible tool to create and customize a subscription pop-up for your newsletter. Create and manage as many pop-ups as you want. Choose between several themes. Set location, animation effect, and trigger. Send newsletter campaigns right from Popup Builder. Pro version features WooCommerce integration, autoresponders, age restriction pop-up, countdown pop-up, MailChimp pop-up, and advanced targeting. Price: Basic is free. Pro is $31.95 for two websites.

MailOptin is a plugin to build forms, collect leads, register users, and create and send email newsletters. Send event-triggered newsletters, such as new post notifications. Display signup forms, targeted messages, and calls-to-action with pop-ups, forms, a notification bar, and slide-in and sidebar widgets. Use the premium plan to build segmented lists and increase automation with lead-tagging and integrations. Integrates with popular email marketing software providers and customer management platforms. Price: Plans start at $79 per year.

MailOptin

MailOptin

4 High-converting Email Segments for Ecommerce

Ecommerce has experienced incredible changes in the past few months. Consumers who had not embraced online retail are now forced to adopt it. Email segmentation can help marketers reach these new buyers by improving relevancy.

The concept of email segmentation is to divide your subscribers based on behavior or demographics, with each group receiving unique messaging, offers, or even frequency. Segmentation, done right, keeps subscribers engaged.

In this post, I’ll describe the most effective ways to segment an email list for ecommerce.

4 Email Segments for Ecommerce

Geography. Segmenting your email file by geography during the pandemic is vital. For example, the New York City area was experiencing stringent Covid-19 lockdowns a few months ago. Now, New York and much of New England have improved. Consumers are eager to resume pre-lockdown routines. But the opposite is occurring in other U.S. and overseas regions.

To segment by geography, first locate the records that have the address attached. Then create segments by regions, such as country, state, or even city.

For subscriber records without a physical address, use a reverse email append process through a data provider, to add the physical location. Otherwise, create an “Unknown” segment to receive information that is location agnostic.

New vs. established customers. Retaining these new customers could be challenging as physical stores reopen and inventory levels stabilize. A key retention method is to send new customers different messages, cadence, and offers.

First, isolate purchasers that are new in the previous three months. Create a separate segment for these consumers. Review the types of products they purchased and the referral source. This could provide insights as to why they converted, which could help with email messaging and cadence.

In most instances, emails to newly acquired customers should be more frequent initially and then taper off. In that respect, the email sequence for a new customer is similar to a new subscriber sequence.

Welcome email from Starbucks to new "insider" members.

Welcome email from Starbucks to new “insider” members.

Subsequent email messages, however, should remind new customers why they initially visited your site, such as fast shipping, inventory availability, pricing, or unique items.

Product category. Dividing your email file by product-category purchased can help identify relevant offers. Monitor early adopters, too — the customers to gravitate to new items. Finally, communicate product availability upfront in the subject line or pre-header to encourage opens and clicks.

This email offer from Coach for a new purse can appeal to early adopters — consumers that gravitate to new items.

This email offer from Coach for a new purse can appeal to early adopters — consumers that gravitate to new items.

Life stage. A consumer’s life stage largely determines the types of products she purchases. Segmenting an email list in lifecycle clusters facilitates personalized and relevant content. Some popular lifestyle clusters include:

  • Single professionals,
  • Double income, married, no children,
  • Young families,
  • Families with older children,
  • Empty nesters,
  • Retirees.

Segmenting these groups and sending relevant, timely offers to each can greatly improve opens, clicks, and conversions. For example, an offer for baby products could be relevant for young families and even empty nesters and retirees who may have grandchildren. But it would likely not work for single professionals or couples with no children. Moreover, sending irrelevant offers could cause unsubscribes.

High-value Audiences

The practice of segmenting an email file will ultimately help a merchant identify high-value audiences. After emails are sent to each audience, review the metrics carefully. Isolate opens, clicks, and conversions. Calculate the average revenue per email sent for your entire database.

Say, for example, that you earned roughly $3 per email sent, on average, for your overall entire list. Then look at segments to see which are higher. You’ll likely identify segments that consistently perform higher than average.

Review the demographic and behavioral traits of those high-value segments. It can help with future prospecting efforts, to gain more of those buyers.

6 Ways to Convert New Visitors to Email Subscribers

Many online merchants have experienced traffic surges due to the pandemic. Converting that new traffic to immediate purchases can be challenging. The next best option is enticing visitors to subscribe to your email communications.

In this post, I’ll offer tips for converting new visitors into email subscribers.

Converting Visitors to Subscribers

Find the source of current subscribers. Email subscribers come from dozens of sources. The first objective is to identify the top referring channels.

To do this, create a conversion goal in Google Analytics (Conversions > Goals) for your email sign-up or confirmation page. Check the sources of the most subscribers and the most purchases — they may be different.

Once you’ve identified the referring channels, look at the paths of those visitors on your site that led to the sign-up. Knowing those behaviors can help focus your optimization efforts.

Typical sources of new subscribers include:

  • Social media posts,
  • Articles and other free content,
  • Organic search traffic,
  • Paid search traffic,
  • Display ads,
  • Affiliate sites,
  • Contests or promotions.

Target the sources that produce the most subscribers.

Provide an incentive. Email subscribers are valuable. Thus offering an incentive can be worth the effort and expense. Strong incentives, in my experience, are:

  • Contests or giveaways,
  • Gift or cart starter,
  • Exclusive subscriber-only content,
  • Discounts and free shipping,
  • Rewards program.

Feedback and notifications. Requesting feedback such as surveys, product reviews, or quizzes can encourage sign-ups, as can notifications, as in:

  • Availability of out-of-stock items,
  • New product launches,
  • Nearby store openings,
  • Holiday shipping deadlines.

Increase sign-up locations. Adding more opportunities for a visitor to sign up will ultimately help conversions. Email sign up boxes should be easy to locate on every page of your site. Shoppers know to scroll to the bottom of a page to access info such as “about us,” shipping, and customer service. It’s a good place for an email sign-up, too.

Wayfair includes an email sign-up on the lower portion of each page.

Wayfair includes an email sign-up on the lower portion of each page.

Use pop-ups. Capturing email addresses via pop-ups is popular because it works. To maximize effectiveness, however, consider the following.

Dos:

  • Do place pop-ups at the end of content or page exit.
  • Do present a clear call to action with creative imagery.
  • Do request feedback or engagement.
  • Do test! What works for one site may not work for others. Optimize sign-ups with non-stop testing.

Don’ts:

  • Don’t throw a pop-up immediately when a visitor lands on a page.
  • Don’t take up the entire screen with the pop-up.
  • Don’t block device-controlled autofill as it streamlines the process for the user.
  • Don’t ask for too much information.

This example below, from Salt Strong, an online fishing club, is a pop-up that engages the visitor with a quiz before requesting an email address.

<img aria-describedby="caption-attachment-351121" class="wp-image-351121 size-full" src="https://www.practicalecommerce.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Salt-Strong-email-sign-up-quiz.jpg" alt="The pop-up for Salt Strong engages visitors with a quiz before requesting an email address. Source: Optinmonster.” width=”342″ height=”530″ srcset=”https://www.practicalecommerce.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Salt-Strong-email-sign-up-quiz.jpg 342w, https://www.practicalecommerce.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Salt-Strong-email-sign-up-quiz-194×300.jpg 194w, https://www.practicalecommerce.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Salt-Strong-email-sign-up-quiz-150×232.jpg 150w, https://www.practicalecommerce.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Salt-Strong-email-sign-up-quiz-323×500.jpg 323w” sizes=”(max-width: 342px) 100vw, 342px”>

The pop-up for Salt Strong engages visitors with a quiz before requesting an email address. Source: Optinmonster.

Find partners. Look for opportunities to partner with your affiliates, sites with complementary content or products, and co-registration options. Opt-Intelligence and AddShoppers, for example, can promote your email sign-up to a network of potential partners.

Unsubscribes

It’s important to grow email sign-ups. But the key is quality, relevant subscribers that will not unsubscribe. Check your analytics to understand the sources of unsubscribes. (An unsubscribe confirmation page can facilitate.)

A critical data point is comparing the subscribe and unsubscribe dates. If the dates are close, try to determine where the subscriber came from. He could be taking advantage of a lucrative offer — not long-term engagement.

Accelerate Ecommerce Marketing with the RFM Model

The recency, frequency, and monetary model lets ecommerce marketers identify and market to specific consumer groups based on their transactional behavior.

Ecommerce merchants have many reasons to segment customers and prospects. An example is organizing customers by their interests and then sending relevant, weekly newsletters to those customers.

The recency, frequency, and monetary-value model (RFM) gives merchants the ability to create segments around each customer’s shopping behavior and then assign a three-digit RFM code to each segment.

Recency

The RFM model begins with “recency,” a measurement of when a customer has last purchased from your business.

“The more recently a customer has made a purchase with a company, the more likely he or she will continue to keep the business and brand in mind for subsequent purchases. Compared with customers who have not bought from the business in months or even longer periods, the likelihood of engaging in future transactions with recent customers is arguably higher,” according to Investopedia.

Recency is a relative term, however. If your online store sells consumables such as protein powder, a recent customer has likely purchased in the past month. But Carvana, which sells used cars online or from vending machines (yes, car vending machines), might consider a purchase in the preceding 24 months as recent.

To use the RFM model, establish what “recent” means to your online store. Then divide your store’s customers into five time-based segments. You will end up with ranges that describe when a particular shopper has last made a purchase.

For example, you might create these recency groups:

  • 0 to 30 days,
  • 31 to 90 days,
  • 91 to 180 days,
  • 181 to 365 days,
  • More than 365 days.

Traditionally, the RFM model has used a 10-point scale. But some ecommerce marketers use five points, which is what I’ve done for this post. In an RFM model, a higher number is typically better. So for a recency scale of 1 to 5, a score of 5 represents the most recent shopper.

  • 0 to 30 days | 5
  • 31 to 90 days | 4
  • 91 to 180 days | 3
  • 181 to 365 days | 2
  • More than 365 days | 1

In this particular RFM model, a customer who has purchased from your ecommerce business 17 days ago would have a recency score of 5, while a customer who purchased 130 days ago would have a recency score of 3.

In the RFM model, the scores are relative to each business. This hypothetical recency scale, for example, assigns a 5 to customers who have purchased in the preceding 30 days.

In the RFM model, the scores are relative to each business. This hypothetical recency scale, for example, assigns a 5 to customers who have purchased in the preceding 30 days.

Frequency

“Frequency” in the RFM model refers to how often a specific customer purchases from your business. Like recency, frequency is relative to your company.

For example, an online store selling fishing lures might routinely make weekly sales to the same customers. Thus a high-frequency customer might purchase from the store 52 times or more each year. Conversely, a high-frequency customer for a furniture store might buy just twice a year.

In the same way that you created categories for recency, divide frequency into five ranges and associate a score with each one. For example, a commodity product might have the following ranges.

  • More than 40 purchases in the preceding year | 5
  • 31 to 40 purchases | 4
  • 21 to 30 purchases | 3
  • 11 to 20 purchases | 2
  • 1 to 10 purchases | 1

Using this example, a shopper who purchased 27 times in the preceding year would have a frequency score of 3.

Monetary Value

For the monetary-value category, you might use the lifetime value of a customer, a customer’s average order value, or what a customer has spent in the past year.

You will, again, develop five segments. Here is an example monetary value model for a luxury ecommerce brand.

  • Spent more than $40,000 in the preceding year | 5
  • Spent $30,001 to $40,000 | 4
  • Spent $20,001 to $30,000 | 3
  • Spent $10,001 to $20,000 | 2
  • Spent $1 to $10,000 | 1

Applying RFM

Using the RFM model, you can divide your customers into segments and associate a three-digit score with each segment.

For example, the 5-5-5 group represents your best customers, since they will have purchased from your store very recently, they buy frequently, and they have a high monetary value. Conversely, the 1-1-1 customer group has not purchased from your business in a long time, does not purchase often, and does not represent a significant monetary value.

Use these segments to set up marketing automation. For example, for a 5-5-5 customer, you might want to automatically notify your CEO, so she can reach out and thank the customer for her business.

Similarly, the 3-5-5 groups might automatically receive an email offer.

Your tactics will depend on your products and industry. Regardless, the RFM model is a powerful tool for marketing segmentation and performance.