An Experiment to Improve Email Click-Through Rates

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On November 12, the analysts at Marketing Experiments presented results from a recent experiment that showed it was possible to improve click-through rates by leveraging design changes to the outbound email. The product under consideration was a home music system. The control featured a soft approach which downplayed the product and showed a happy and smiling couple presumably enjoying the music. A promotional offer of a free Android tablet was relegated to the bottom position. The control piece shifted the focus to the product, followed by the free offer and finally the obligatory “happy people” photo.

The sheer volume of emails and other communications that consumers receive makes clutter a real concern. Even small improvements in click-through rates can lead to significant increases in revenue. In this case, shifting toward a stronger product focus increased CTR from 2.4% (control) to 3.1% for the treatment. The 27.3% increase was significant at the 99% confidence level.


What drove the increase, and can it be replicated? The Marketing Experiments team examined three key principles.

  1. First, the treatment leveraged a shift in headline and imagery that was designed to quickly engage the recipient. The control email highlights a couple washing dishes and uses a headline of “One system for all your music.” Neither the image nor headline speak directly to the product’s benefits. The treatment shifted focus to the music system and replaced the one system for all headline with one that clearly stated the system was a new and easier way to stream music to any room. Customers and prospects review their email box with a disposition to delete meaning we have but a few seconds to engage their interest.
  2. The second design point is one of visual simplicity. Clearing the eye-path of visual clutter allows the respondent to focus in a linear, top-to-bottom fashion. It presents the viewer three simple but distinct sections. The control email’s eye-path resembles the footwork of a scrambling quarterback attempting to avoid being sacked. Converting thought-dense paragraphs to easy to digest bullet-points increases the likelihood the information will be consumed. Recipients scan emails and do not necessarily “read” them. Keep it simple and keep it fun!
  3. Finally, the call to action is aligned with the next step in the prospect’s thought process. Jumping straight into “shopping” assumes the prospect is ready to pull out their credit card, which may be too soon. The treatment takes the approach of inviting the prospect to continue the conversation through taking in additional product details. The email’s purpose is spark interest, it is the landing page’s role to convert that interest into purchase. To speak about “purchase” in the email may be too early in the conversation.

The key takeaway is that with an eye to visual simplification, product focus, and appropriate calls to action, we can move the needle and increase click-through rate (the appropriate metric for an email).

 Greg Timpany directs the research efforts for Global Knowledge in Cary, North Carolina, and runs Anova Market Research. You can follow him on Twitter @DataDudeGreg.


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