Word of the Week: Misconceptions

Posted by Tom Sather on

This weekly roundup is about common misconceptions held dearly by a lot of email marketers.  For example, there’s always been a strong desire of email marketers, coupled with a strong fear, to use the word “free” in email messages, or to look for the holy grail of send times.  This week’s roundup of articles and blogs answer this and also other misconceptions in the email marketing world.

Paul Cheney from MECLABS decided to test the commonly held belief that the word “free” would cause deliverability issues. Not only did he test the word free, he tested it in ALL CAPS (what?  Too scared to test with a dozen trailing exclamation points?!).  Cheney did a split A/B test on the content and saw a higher bounce rate for the content with FREE but also saw a higher response rate.  Unfortunately, without knowing the actual inbox placement rate or the reason for the bounces (was it because of temporary ISP errors), we can’t ultimately say that the word FREE actually caused deliverability issues.  The fact that it did see a 6.6% increase in click through rates, even with a higher bounce rate, goes to show you content taboos can be ignored in favored of testing and a good sending reputation.

Another common question I get from marketers is “what’s the optimal frequency for high response rates and low complaints?”  Unfortunately, there isn’t a one-size fits all approach here.  What may work for Groupon, who sends daily emails, may not work for someone like a Halloween costume store.  It depends on your audience and when they’re in the market to purchase, as well as if you’re delivering relevant content.  Mike Holtz for ClickZ recommends focusing on the cadence of emails instead of frequency. To be successful at this, he states that email marketers need to focus on their own data, determine when they get the most clicks, how many days during the month garnered higher than normal clicks, how long after a send people are clicking through, what items in the email get the most clicks, how the open rate varies depending on the time of day sent, and seeing which emails registered the most repeat opens.

Lastly, something I hear probably every week is “what’s the best time of day (or the best day) to send an email?”  Studies are always touting when subscribers open their email, and the answers are always different.  Our recent mobile study showed that webmail readership was higher on the weekends.  I’ve seen others say to send only Tuesday through Thursday and between 10AM and 1PM.  Truth be told, you’ll get a different response depending on who you ask.  Like I mentioned above, look at your own data to determine when your subscribers are actually more active in their inbox.  Tim Watson of EmailVision writes that the time you send your campaign isn’t important based on his own experience with client tests. What is important is the subject line and from address, how relevant the content is, past experience with your brand and email program, as well as brand loyalty.

Have any email marketing misconceptions that you’ve proven wrong through testing, or ones you’ve proven to actually hold some weight?    Please share your comments below!


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About Tom Sather

Email data and deliverability expert Tom Sather has worked with top-tier brands to diagnose and solve inbox placement and sender reputation issues as a strategic consultant with Return Path. As the company’s senior director of research, Tom is a frequent speaker and writer on email marketing trends and technology. His most recent analysis of new inbox applications’ effects on consumer behavior was widely cited across leading business media outlets including the Financial Times, Ad Age, and Media Post.

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