NEWS Improve Your Email Marketing Performance

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* By Sarah Cornelisse

Even in this age of social media, email remains an important tool in business marketing strategy. Among the many advantages of preserving an email marketing strategy are maintaining ownership of the recipient list, direct connections to current and prospective customers, personalization, and audience segmentation.

Constant Contact, an email marketing platform, estimates the average return-on-investment (ROI) through email marketing to be 36% (Sirohi, 2023). This is greater than the best ROI seen from social media platforms where Instagram was estimated to have a 25% ROI followed closely by Facebook at 23% (Forsey, 2023).

To capture this potential, it is essential that your email marketing strategy be well planned and executed. Poor email marketing performance can result from (in no particular order):

  1. Poor email design
  2. Lack of personalization
  3. Weak or spammy subject lines
  4. Lack of a relevant mailing list
  5. Non-segmented mailing list
  6. Weak call-to-action

These flaws can lead to poor open and click rates and high unsubscribe and bounce rates; metrics that can lead business owners/marketers reconsider their use of email. The open rate is the percentage of emails opened compared to the number sent. The click rate measures the percentage of recipients that clicked in the email out of the total who received it. The unsubscribe rate is the percentage of recipients that click unsubscribe in the email. And the bounce rate is the percentage of emails that cannot be delivered out of the number sent.

Average rates for the agriculture and food industry and all industries as of December 2023 fall in the ranges shown in the Table 1 (Anonymous, n.d., Elder, 2023).

Table 1. Metrics of email marketing for the agriculture and food industry and all industries (December 2023).

Tracking email analytic data can help to identify where the problem may lie and provide a starting point for making the adjustments necessary to improve performance. Most email marketing services, such as Constant Contact or Mail Chimp, provide analytic data to subscribers (although amount and type of data may vary based on subscription level). Actions that you can take to improve your email marketing performance include:

Ensure a mobile friendly email/template

Statistics indicate that anywhere from 50-80% of emails are opened and read on a mobile device. Therefore, you need to make sure that the emails you send are formatted for that audience. Content that requires recipients to scroll sideways, or left-to-right, for instance is more difficult to take in on a smartphone. The use of email marketing platforms can ensure your emails are optimized for mobile viewing.

Keep the email clean and uncluttered

An attractive and organized email can draw people in while too lengthy emails with too much competing content (pictures, links, content, video, etc.) can deter people from reading it and ultimately clicking through.

Clean up your email list(s)

A clean email list will improve open, click, unsubscribe, and bounce rates. Remove addresses of recipients that have not opened emails after a length of time (for example, nine months) or after a certain number of emails being sent to them. Remove addresses for which you receive undeliverable messages as well. Cleaning an email list can take time but will provide you with a solid foundation for your email marketing decisions.

Segment your email list

If you have only one email list, consider whether you should segment it into two (or more) lists. Segmenting gives you the opportunity to create different emails for each group of recipients tailored to their needs and increasing the likelihood for engagement. For example, one segment could be of newer subscribers of less than a year, while another segment could be of key decision-makers in their company.

Write compelling subject lines

Think of your subject line as click-bait. A short and creative subject line can help your email stand out and entice the recipient to open it. On the other hand, a subject line that sounds “spammy,” using words such as “free” or “win,” will quickly be caught by many spam filters.

Provide value

Back up the subject line with content that recipients want and will value. No one likes to feel that their time was wasted by reading an email and low-value content will do just that while also landing future emails in the trash. What information will you share that will be informative or of use to the recipient? A common trap is to believe that value lies only with discounts or sale codes. To the recipient however, value may be as simple as an idea for an alternative product use or a humorous and brand relevant story that brightens their day. The key is to know your audience and where they are in the marketing journey.

Have a call-to-action

What action do you want recipients to take as a result of opening and reading your email. This could be anything from going to your website, scheduling a meeting with you, or viewing an instructional video. The call-to-action (CTA) is a critical element of effective email marketing and reinforces the content. Ideally, there should be only one CTA per email and it should stand out (see example).

Improve delivery rates

Having gone through the effort of collecting email addresses, developing segmented email lists, writing compelling subject lines and content, you want your email to land in the inbox, not the spam folder. Two ways of doing this are to use double opt-in and asking recipients to add your email address as a trusted contact.

Send emails at optimal times

It may be hard to believe, but your contacts are not sitting at their computers or holding their mobile devices anticipating your email. Most email service providers now provide the ability to schedule email delivery, allowing you the ability to craft your email at 2 a.m. but have it sent when recipients are most likely to see, and open, it. As well as scheduling capabilities, email marketing platforms collect and share data on when emails are being opened in the analytics they provide.

Test, measure, and adapt

The sophisticated email marketing services available make it easy to test the effectiveness of different email templates, CTA buttons, subject lines, content layout, and more. Use these capabilities to your advantage but also remember to measure the results, making adjustments as warranted.

Email marketing can be highly effective and profitable when given adequate time and attention. Leverage available tools to tailor your email marketing to both achieve your objectives and meet your audience’s needs and preferences. Don’t be afraid to experiment when making changes – which can be difficult to do when working with a long-standing strategy. While improving the performance of a faltering email marketing strategy may take time, the returns will be well worth the time and effort spent.

References and sources consulted by the author on the elaboration of this article are available under previous request to our editorial staff.
*Sarah Cornelisse is a Senior Extension Associate of agricultural entrepreneurship and business management at Penn State University in the Department of Agricultural Economics, Sociology and Education.
Sarah has expertise in direct marketing, valueadded dairy entrepreneurship and marketing, the use of digital and social media for agricultural farm and food business marketing, and business and marketing planning and decision making. Originally from New York State, she has a B.A in mathematics from the State University of New York at Geneseo, and M.S. degrees in Agricultural Economics and Animal Science, both from Penn State University. Correspondence email:

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