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How to Maximize Your Clickthrough Rate in Emails

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This post is part of a series called Email Marketing Jumpstart.
Strategies to Boost Your Email Open Rates
How to Create an Effective Autoresponder Sequence

When it comes to email marketing, clickthrough rates matter.

You send out emails because you want your subscribers to take action. Perhaps you want them to buy a product, or read an article on your blog, or respond to a survey.

Whatever action you want your subscribers to take, you need them to click a link in your email before they take that action.

In other words, you need them to click through your email. The more subscribers who click, the better your clickthrough rate.

Unfortunately, clickthrough rates are typically very low. Most email subscribers don't take the action that's asked of them. According to statistics from the Epsilon Email Marketing Research Center, the average marketing email has a clickthrough rate of 4.5%.

In this tutorial, we'll look at the steps you can take to maximize the clicks on your emails so your email marketing performs better than average.

First, let's get to grips with how clickthrough rates are calculated, to understand what a clickthrough rate of 4.5% really means. You may be shocked at just how low that actual figures is when it comes to readers taking action on your emails.

What is a Clickthrough Rate?

As we've established, a clickthrough occurs when one of your subscribers clicks a link in an email you sent out.

Obviously, a clickthrough can only happen if a subscriber opens your email. So your clickthrough rate is calculated as a proportion of the subscribers who opened your email.

According to the Epsilon study we cited above, the average clickthrough rate across all industries is 4.5%. In other words, if 100 subscribers open your email, you can expect fewer than five of them (4.5 to be exact) to click a link inside your email—if your list is performing at an average level.

To look at it from another point of view, your clickthrough rate isn't based on your overall list size. You may have a list of 100,000 subscribers. But if only 100 of those subscribers open your email, then a clickthrough rate of 5% means that only five people (not 5,000 people) have clicked through.

It's worth bearing in mind that the typical open rate for emails sent out to email marketing lists is 27.4%, again according to Epsilon's figures. That means if you've got a list of 100 people, only 27 of those will open your email. With a clickthrough rate of 4.5%, only one of those 27 people will click a link in your email.

In other words, if your list performs at average levels, for every 100 subscribers on your list, you can expect that only one will click a link in your emails (the exact figure is 1.2). Scaling up, that means for 500 subscribers you'd get around six clicks, or for 1,000 subscribers you'd get 12 clicks. And that's according to optimistic figures. The email marketing service MailChimp tracks open and clickthrough rates across all industries, and its benchmark figures are significantly lower than those cited by Epsilon.

Given that clickthrough rates are typically so low, anything you can do to drive them up is good for your email marketing.

Let's take a look at seven steps you can take to boost your clickthrough rate.

Step 1: Grow Your List Organically

The simplest way to boost your clickthrough rate is to avoid spamming people. Don't buy lists of email addresses. Instead, grow your email lists through sign-ups.

This permission-based approach means that subscribers will already know who you are before they hear from you. What's more, they'll be excited to receive your emails. They've signed up to your list because they believe you have something of value to offer.

When people sign up to your list, it's a good idea to carefully manage their expectations. Let them know what they'll get when they sign up. Deliver on what you've promised, and you'll see solid results when it comes to your clickthrough rate.

Step 2: Teach Your Readers to Click

What if you could train your subscribers to habitually open your emails and click the links inside?

We human beings are creatures of habit, so this isn't actually too difficult to do.

According to psychology, the way good habits are built is through operant conditioning. To put this simply, when we've performed an action once and found it rewarding, we're more likely to perform that action again. Over time, as an action is repeatedly rewarded, it turns into a habit.

There are two important ways you can help readers develop the habit of opening your emails.

The first way is ask your readers to clickthrough in the very first email you send to them. You've probably enticed subscribers to sign up to your list using a buzz piece or a special offer. Instead of giving them access to this the moment they sign up, deliver their reward in an email. Then, when they receive the email, ask them to click through to get their buzz piece or discount. Why do it this way? First, because new subscribers will be highly motivated to check for your email and click the link inside, so you'll get a very good clickthrough rate on this email. Second, because with this approach, you're showing your subscribers right from the start that when they click the links in your emails, they get a reward.

The second way of helping your readers to develop the click habit is through an autoresponder sequence. This is a series of emails—typically daily—that you send out to new subscribers. Every email includes a link for your readers to click, and a valuable reward when they make that click. This creates an automatic association in the minds of your subscribers that they'll benefit from opening your emails. Once the autoresponder sequence is finished, they'll continue to look forward to receiving your emails.

Note: We'll look at how to create an effective autoresponder sequence in another tutorial.

Step 3: Work on Your Open Rate

Increasing your open rate does not automatically mean you'll increase your clickthrough rate. That said, even if your clickthrough rate stays the same, a higher open rate means you'll get more overall clicks. Additionally, strategies you use to increase your open rate will be likely to also boost your clickthrough rate.

Here are some simple ways you can improve your open rates:

  • Write effective subject lines. The key here is straight honesty. Write subject lines that let subscribers know what's inside your email.
  • Split test subject lines. By testing, you'll discover which subject lines get the most opens from your subscribers. With testing, you can continually tweak your subject lines to drive up open rates.
  • Use a real name in the "from" field. When it comes to open rates, real names in the "from" field perform better than email addresses or company names.

You'll find more details on these strategies and additional strategies for boosting your open rate in our article here.

Step 4: Make Your Emails Worthwhile to Open

In a previous tutorial, we explained that it's important to email your subscribers on a regular basis, whether that's daily, weekly or monthly. Sending out regular emails keeps your readers engaged with your brand, so they're not surprised to hear from you.

It's vital to email regularly. But it's equally important to ensure that every email you send is valuable to your subscribers.

How can you ensure your emails are valuable?

  • Be useful. The simplest way to share value is to give your subscribers something they need. This could be advice on how to do something, a guide to solve a specific problem they're facing, or a discount coupon for a product they want.
  • Be entertaining. Your readers will love your emails if your writing brightens up their day. Don't be afraid to show personality in your writing. Be yourself. Tell stories. Share jokes. Hubspot do an excellent job of this in their Congrats on Avoiding the Sales Rep email, which they send out to subscribers who avoid their sales calls.
  • Be relevant. If your email is focused on a topic your readers care about, for example one of their hobbies, or the area where they live, then you're delivering value.

One way of keeping your emails particularly relevant to subscribers is to segment your list. Segmenting involves dividing up your subscribers into groups—for example based on age, location, or interests. Research by MailChimp discovered that segmenting an email list typically increases clickthrough rates by almost 15%. HubSpot found that careful segmentation gave a 166% boost to the clickthrough rate of their emails.

Providing value in every email means your subscribers will be excited to receive, open and clickthrough your emails. Result? A healthy clickthrough rate.

Step 5: Re-Engage Inactive Subscribers

All email lists carry some dead weight. These could be subscribers who opened your first email, then never read another email. Or they could be previously regular readers who have dropped off the wagon.

Most email marketing software lets you see who your most active and inactive subscribers are. This means you can reach out to your inactive subscribers and re-engage them with your emails.

Inactive subscribers don't open your emails. So, on a surface level, they have no impact on your clickthrough rate. However, if you re-engage them, then they could become your most loyal readers, clicking through every email you send. That will drive up your clickthrough rate.

Email marketer D. Bnonn Tennant re-engages inactive subscribers by sending them an email asking them to unsubscribe (be careful with this tactic—it could get you into trouble with your email service provider). It's driven good results for Tennant's business, as he explains:

What happens when you biff poor prospects is your overall list quality goes up. So your open rates, click rates, and ultimately your conversion rates increase—at the expense of your unsubscribe rate. That’s a good trade.

Step 6: Make Your Emails Mobile and Tablet Friendly

These days, most email marketing platforms allow you to create mobile friendly emails.

If your email provider doesn't, you need to switch right away. And if you've never checked whether your emails are mobile friendly, do it now.

Why? Because almost two thirds of all email in the U.S. is opened on a mobile device—and most of this is done on smartphones.

If your emails don't display properly on mobiles and tablets, then they'll just get ignored by readers using these devices. That will eat away at your clickthrough rate.

Step 7: Be Clear on What You Want

Assuming that your readers know you want them to take action is a mistake. Even worse is leaving your readers to guess what you want.

For every email you send, be clear with yourself on the course of action you want readers to take. Then ask your readers to do that.

An effective call to action:

  • Lets readers know what you expect them to do.
  • Explains the benefits of taking that action.

For example:

  • Read more about how you can save money on insurance.
  • Apply now for your free gift.
  • Enter the voucher code 25OFF at checkout, and we'll give you 25% discount.

When you let your subscribers know what action to take, they're more likely to do it.

Learn more about jump starting your email marketing in our multipart, foundational series on the subject.

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