The Guide to Getting More Email Engagement

Ashlee Rolkowski on September 02, 2021

“Yo! when's your birthday? Tell us and we'll send ya something.”

That was the preview text in an email my husband recently received after ordering from Hoonigan Racing. Obviously, he opened it because they were offering free stuff but also because it felt so relatable. 

Hoonigan (I know it’s super fun to say) was being really smart with this follow-up email, and the principles they followed aren't a big secret; they sent the right content to the right person at the right time. These have been preached as core tenants of the inbound methodology for years and we're going to dig into how you can leverage them to increase engagement with your email subscribers.

Before we dive into how you can create the same kind of engaging emails, let's define some of the key terms you'll hear around email engagement.

Email Engagement Terms

Subject Line - An email subject line is the first thing subscribers will see in their inbox, after the name of the email sender. The effectiveness of your subject lines will be reflected in your open rates.

Preview Text - In most email platforms, you can specify the preview text that shows in some inboxes. This is the little snippet of the email you see after the subject line

Open Rates - The number of people who opened your email out of the number of people who were sent your email.

Click Rates - The number of people who clicked your email out of the number of people who were sent your email.

Click-Through Rates - The number of people who clicked your email out of the number of people who opened it. This is important because if they didn't open the email, they don't even have a chance to click on it, indicating an issue with your subject line, name or deliverability. 

Conversion Rates - This can be defined in different ways, but generally this is the number of people who took the action you wanted them to out of the number of people who were sent the email. Oftentimes this action is clicking to schedule a call or going to a specific page. 

A/B Testing - This type of testing tests only one variable at a time, and randomly delivers your email versions to an evenly split group. This allows you to verify the one thing that worked or didn't with each test. 

The Right Content

First and foremost, sending marketing emails just to check that box off of your marketing strategy's list of tactics is not going to work. The right content for your audience is valuable because it provides information and/or insight that they'd have difficulty finding elsewhere. They should enjoy reading your email and they should feel like they got something really useful out of it. 

Check out this snippet from Marketing After Dark (M.A.D.), our email newsletter.

guac email newsletter example

Our goal with these newsletters is to help subscribers get a fresh take on their marketing by having a conversation that uses real-world examples. We want it to feel like the kind of friendly chat you'd have with a friend over a beer. It should be fun, and helpful, and it definitely shouldn't feel like one of those awkward lunch presentations that you sith through to get a huge discount on a timeshare. 

When we handed the reigns of M.A.D. over to Gray, he started to come up with new and innovative ways to talk about marketing that really felt valuable and helpful to our audience. In the case of this newsletter, Gray wanted to call out how Moe's identified a specific gripe people have with their competitor and then how Moe's turned it into a selling feature, to get our readers thinking about what downsides from their competitors that they could capitalize on.

👉 By the way, if you want to read more witty content like this example, you can subscribe to our newsletter here.

Effective email content is all about figuring out what your audience wants from you and then delivering that thing consistently. In the case of our newsletter, the best emails have delivered a marketing snippet to get them thinking and highlighted some of our favorite new blogs from the month. 

Don't Block the Exit

When your subscribers join your list, it doesn't mean that they will end up connecting with your email content. And generally, when they don’t connect, they unsubscribe.

Every email list has some level of attrition over time, so don't beat yourself up. In fact, one study reports that over half of new subscribers will leave your list within their first 12 months. And that's ok, churn is a totally normal and healthy part of email marketing. 

Part of getting the most engagement from your email subscribers is sending them content they actually care about. But not everyone in your list is going to want to continue hearing from you. Maybe they investigated your product a bit and decided it wasn't for them, so they left your list. And there's nothing wrong with that!

Give your contacts an easy and clear way to unsubscribe from your email. If they aren't engaging then it's better to remove them from your list so you can focus on email engagement metrics from contacts who are interested in your content and your products. Plus, the fewer unengaged contacts you send to, the better your deliverability which means you are less likely to be marked as spam. 

👉 Further Reading: How to Build Your Email List

The Right Person

Getting the right content to the right person all comes down to one thing: segmentation.

Segmentation, in the broad sense, is the practice of grouping prospects or customers into categories based on the challenges they have and how one of your products or services addresses those unique challenges. 

In order to use segmentation in a meaningful way, you need the data to segment your contacts. You use demographic data to identify challenges based on things like location (e.g. it's REALLY hot in Arizona) or you can gather data from fields in form submissions. You can even use previous email engagement, sales calls and more to inform your segmentation strategy.

In the end, segmenting is all about making sure your content only goes to email subscribers who find it relevant and allows you to better address their unique pain points and place in the buyer's journey. 

Check out this example from a fictional company called TailyWags.

TailyWags Segmentation Strategy

They sell dog sweaters to dog owners. Through a recent promotion, they were able to gather data on which of their customers would consider themselves more “upscale” when it comes to their dog's style as well as what type of dog they have. 

They just launched their “Hunky Pullover” for dogs with large necks in a luxurious cashmere blend and want to run an email marketing campaign to promote it to their existing customers. 

Using the data they’ve compiled, they can hyper-target those prospects based on their preferred level of luxury and kind of dog. It’s bound to produce a high level of conversion because it’s a very specific product that solves a problem for a specific customer. Best of all, TailyWags has all the data to define and reach out to that customer.

Segmentation can be incredibly effective on a product level because it allows your brand to specifically address a pain point a prospective customer may be facing and simultaneously provide a solution. All they have to do is click buy. 

Beyond product targeting, it's important to utilize segmentation for additional initiatives that can continue to provide value to your customers. Expanding on the above example, often owners of large dogs struggle with their faithful furry friends pulling on their leash. These dog owners might appreciate training tips on how to prevent this issue or other resources on leash pulling. Remember, offer real value, not just a sales pitch!

Segmenting Unengaged Contacts

One important segment I want to call out are your unengaged contacts. These are subscribers who haven't opened an email from you in several months or several sends (the actual length of time should be determined based on your send frequency or volume). This might be because they aren't interested in your emails or they aren't seeing them. In either case, they aren't benefiting from your emails and neither are you benefiting from continuing to send to them. 

When you keep unengaged contacts in your list and continue to send to those contacts, you're preventing yourself from being able to analyze the true engagement metrics on your engaged contacts. 

For example, you’re looking to determine which subject lines resonate with the subscribers who actually enjoy your content, but when you have a number of contacts in the mix who aren’t engaging with your content, you’re unable to see how your loyal subscribers are actually engaging. 

To segment these contacts, first create a list of criteria to filter out your unengaged contacts. These criteria could consist of “number of sends since last engagement”, or “email opens is less than 1”, etc. Once you’ve created this list, it’s time to run a re-engagement campaign. Re-engagement campaigns should fit the model of your business — often it consists of a few emails asking if they'd like to receive different types of emails or hear about a different topic or unsubscribe entirely (remember, don't block the exit). It’s also an opportunity for your subscribers to tell you what they actually want from you. If they don't respond or open any of the emails, it’s a clear indicator you can remove them from your list or protect them from future sends. 

New call-to-action

The Right Time

Email marketers have all sorts of theories on the best time to send an email. As a rule of thumb, emails sent on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday generally perform best. But sending at the right time is more than just finding the golden hour of email sends, you want your subscribers to receive content that is relevant to them in that moment. 

Consider this — it's the week before Christmas and you send an email about free overnight shipping to your contacts with messaging that would appeal to all the shoppers who are in crunch time to purchase gifts for the whole family. See how the relevancy of the offer is based on the customer receiving the message at the exact moment they needed it?

Or, another example, maybe you sell cribs for babies and you’ve created a segmented list of customers who are expecting in the next 1-2 months. Knowing this information, you can set up an email campaign that aligns with different milestone’s in the baby’s growth that in turn requires adjustments to the crib height. This may be information the parents know or don’t know, but regardless it’s valuable information and/or a reminder timed perfectly based on the age of the baby. This also opens upsell opportunities for future products based on the child’s age that again, creates a relevant and valuable experience with your customer 

The list could go on but you get the idea. Sending at the right time is a combination of being relevant to what is going on in the world for everyone and what is going on in that person's life. 

Use Automation to Personalize Your Email Marketing

Sending the right content to the right person at the right time can get really burdensome really fast, but fortunately, there are a number of digital marketing platforms and tools that have taken out much of the manual labor. 

Email Automation Platforms

Automation platforms like HubSpot or Mailchimp help you take actions based on your data automatically, ensuring opportunities to deliver relevant and timely emails to a contact don't pass you by.

Any email marketing platform worth its salt will allow you to use something called a "merge field." Merge fields let you insert a personalization token, like 'first name', into the text of your email body. Then, when you send the email to your list, it will auto-populate with the contact’s information for that field. 

Some platforms limit this capability, but others will allow you to insert a merge field for just about any of your properties. So you could have a sentence like, "Hey I saw you were interested in learning more about our {sport} program" into a school email to parents. The {sport} field would populate based upon whatever information you'd gathered on that contact from forms, calls, etc. 

Apps like Mail Chimp allow you to trigger certain email series from an action. So if a lead fills out a specific form, you can trigger a series of emails that cater to the specific needs indicated by that action. If they download an eBook on choosing the best hiking shoes, for example, you could follow up with a series of emails that contain more info on hiking, popular trails and perhaps a product plug for your elite line of trail shoes. 

Platforms like HubSpot take it a step further and allow you to use "dynamic content." Similar to merge fields, you can change an entire section of an email based on the segment your contact falls into. If they are interested in football, you could have your email automatically add a section with a brief introduction to the coach. You could also use this feature to automate a call to action (CTA) specific to the needs of that contact.

Regardless, these personalization features allow you to create an even more targeted and personalized experience, ultimately increasing the likelihood of engagement or conversion.

Seventh Sense

We talked about finding the perfect time to send, and sending on one of those primetime days will often produce decent results. But we all know by now that the more accurate you can be with your timing, the more successful you are. 

At Lone Fir, we use a platform called Seventh Sense to further optimize our emails on an individual level. Seventh Sense analyzes all the data from your previous email sends and then optimizes the send time for when a subscriber is most likely to open. 

All you do is set the window of time you want your emails to go out in, let’s say, between Tuesday and Thursday of next week, and Seventh Sense will optimize the send time for each recipient within that timeframe to get the best open rates possible. 

Pretty cool right?

This tool is most useful for things like promotional emails where you're sending a single email to a large list of contacts. So if you're sending batches of promotions or newsletters or similar things, Seventh Sense is definitely worth a look. 

Where to Go From Here

So what's next for your email campaigns? The project manager in me wouldn't leave you without some clear next steps so behold, a very neat and organized list you can copy and paste into your favorite to-do list app. 

1. Clean out the unengaged contacts from your list and run a re-engagement campaign for them. 

2. Brainstorm the types of content that could resonate with your database of subscribers.

3. Based on your products and the problems they solve for your subscribers, break down your remaining list into three to four segments that could be targeted with content that addresses those specific pain points. 

4. Test different types of content on those lists to find which topics and ways of delivering content (video, webinars, blogs, etc.) get the best engagement.

5. Rinse and repeat!


👉 Keep Reading: What is Inbound Marketing

Ashlee Rolkowski
Ashlee Rolkowski
Ashlee thrives on the fast-paced environment that is marketing. She gets a great deal of enjoyment out of organizing any and all things and loves helping her clients tackle their unique set of challenges.

Make More Things Happen

If you are a brand looking to improve your brand awareness, create predictable revenue streams, expand profit, etc. — we’ll do it. Get in touch.