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What best practices should small business owners follow when it comes to email marketing?

SendGrid’s second annual Global Email Benchmark Report offers some insights. The report analyzed data from nearly 50 billion emails from over 100,000 different senders in 25 industries to help companies assess the effectiveness of their email marketing strategies. 

Here’s what they found:

  • Send rates are down. The average email send rate declined from 9.8 sends per month last year to 8.1.
  • Open rates are up. During the same time period, open rates increased from 27.3 percent to 30.6 percent.
  • Click rates are essentially the same. Click rates dropped slightly, from 2.8 percent to 2.5 percent.
  • Desktop no longer dominates. Eight of the 25 industries were “desktop dominant” last year—in other words, most emails they sent were opened on desktops. This year, however, the only two industries that remain desktop-dominant are insurance and government. In particular, the travel/hospitality, ecommerce and dating site industries had more than 50 percent of their emails opened on mobile.

What’s the takeaway from this study? There’s much more industry-specific information in the report that can help you identify benchmarks for your own business.

However, the report makes these recommendations for all industries:

  • Monitor your monthly send rate, opens and clicks

The number-one lesson from the study is how much your sending frequency affects customer engagement. With so many emails in the average recipient’s inbox, it’s important to optimize the number of emails you send every month. Use the monthly send rate benchmarks in the report can help you gauge the ideal frequency. If your sending frequency is lower than your industry’s benchmarks, consider emailing customers more often. On the other hand, if your frequency is above average, you may want to send fewer emails to see if each one gets more engagement. Monitor how the number of emails you send affects your unique open rates and unique click rates.

  • Make sure your emails are mobile optimized.

The rapid migration of users to mobile devices is another important lesson from the survey. Since your customers may be reading emails on multiple screens of different sizes, email messages need to be responsive to the device they’re viewed on. Beyond reading the emails, users must be able to take action on the email on any device and have a consistently positive user experience.

  • Pay attention to where you collect email addresses.

Monitor where user addresses are collected, especially whether they are collected via an app-based mobile signup or a website. Establishing an email-based relationship with a user who signed up within an app can be tricky; the email address of the account linked to the app may have become invalid. Make sure users are aware of the shift, and understand what types and what frequency of messages to expect. You should also store as much information as possible about how you collect email addresses (such as IP address, date, time, form, URL, etc.). These details may be useful if you run into issues with blacklist operators and ISPs.

  • Do A/B testing.

Measuring your email marketing results against industry benchmarks is all well and good, but it’s more important to measure results against your own benchmarks and focus on your own recipients. Monitor metrics such as sending frequency, opens, clicks and unsubscribes. Always conduct A/B testing before making changes to your email marketing program.

  • Personalize your email messages.

Using email personalization allows you to target specific audiences. For example, if more women than men typically read your emails, you can take steps to create personalized emails for female recipients to boost open rates for that audience. Create emails targeted to segments of your email list based on factors such as age, gender, open and click rates, and prior purchasing behavior.

  • Set measurable goals.

Use the industry averages in the report, combined with your own email marketing metrics, to set concrete goals for improving your results. Can you beat the industry average? Can you beat your own “personal best”?

  • Focus on open and click rates.

The report advises that opens and clicks should be a critical focus for businesses. By paying attention to open and click rates, you’ll be better able to address problems, such as unresponsive email addresses, recipients who are no longer engaged with your emails, or content that isn’t hitting the mark.

Need some help fine-tuning your email marketing program? The expert business advisers at SCORE are here for you.