Your audience varies. While you may appreciate a long-copy whitepaper, another prospect may simply want to review a feature list before they contact you for business. This great infographic from ContentPlus, a UK-based content marketing service, provides an overview of the variety of content offerings that exist, why they work, and some supporting data. They also have an accompanying blog post that ties it all together.
Internet users have become sophisticated content consumers in recent years, and their preferences continue to evolve. Gone are the days when brands could satisfy their audiences’ needs by just publishing bog-standard posts that conveyed the same information as everyone else in their industry. The organisations that leverage content marketing successfully today are the ones that deliver compelling content in the formats preferred by their audiences, and this is the topic of our new infographic Content Strategy Pick ‘n’ Mix.
We had a hunch that word choice in email subject lines have a strong effect on response rates. So, we tested 287 keywords across a sample of 2.2bn emails to see which work, and which don’t.
Why? Because President Obama has done more for email marketing than any world leader in the history of mankind. How? By focusing on subject line testing, his digital team optimised their donation campaigns to generate hundreds of millions of dollars online.
Despite Obama’s best efforts, most marketers still view email marketing as the Bluth Company’s Banana Stand of Arrested Development fame: a more boring and less sexy marketing channel than pretty much anything else imaginable.
But – and never forget this – there’s always money in the banana stand! There is great power in optimising subject lines.
In case you missed my presentations at MarketingWeekLive last week, you can find out more about our findings after the jump.
We tested a random sample of 95,000 global, English-language campaigns over the last 12 months (for a total of 2.2bn emails), and have isolated 287 popular ‘trigger words’.
Then, split by sector, we looked at the correlation between the word’s inclusion in the subject line and its variance above or below the average results for key email metrics (Open Rate, CTR, CTOR, and Unsubscribe).
To ensure outliers aren’t confusing things, we’ve also looked at the first, second and third quartiles to give an indication of data spread, not just nominal long-run means.
Bear in mind, these relationships are correlated, but not necessarily causal. There are simply too many variables in an email campaign to pinpoint exact causation. But, where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and at the very least, this will give you many ideas for what to test.
And now some key findings:
People love free stuff
In related news, water is wet. Specific trigger words have a drastic effect on the response rates of offers. For example, ‘Sale’ delivers +23.2% opens, but ‘Save’ only +3.4%.
However, in terms of click throughs, they give +60.7% and -25.2% respectively. When you promote your offers, consider testing those trigger words – it could make or break your campaigns.
And, consider simple quick wins like ‘Free Delivery’ or even ‘% off’ – in the right context these keywords can drive massive response uplifts. But, if you do nothing but hard sell and offer discounts all the time, your customers will become bored and tune out.
Mix up your offer emails in a series of value-adding campaigns.
Content marketing works when the content isn’t crap
The problem with content marketing is the vast majority of content produced is crap. Too many people have outsourced it to agencies that don’t know enough about their clients’ markets, and focus on the wrong metrics. As a result, consumers have become anesthetised to content.
Take, for example, ‘Report’ (-23.7% opens, -54.8% CTR) and Webinar’ (-16.6%, -70.7%.)
Conversely if the content is good, people will consume it. So ‘News’ (+34.8%, +47.7%), ‘Bulletin’ (+15.8%, +12.7%) and ‘Video’ (+18.5%, +64.8%) work well.
Simply put, if your content is crap, it won’t work. If your content is good, you’ll get great results. When doing content marketing, make sure you’re in the latter group, not the former, or else you’ll be what we affectionately call in the industry a “spamming %$*!$#“.
More frequent emails are better than less frequent
Typical for an email guy to say, right? Full disclosure, when people send out more emails, ESPs make more money, this is true. But, if emails drive response and therefore generate revenue, then what’s the problem?
But, don’t take my word for it. We looked at newsletter frequency, and specifically the trigger words that indicate it. ‘Monthly’ brought -26.6% opens and -37.0% clicks. ‘Weekly’ brought +27.1% and +50.6% (not bad) and, amazingly, ‘Daily’ brought +27.8% and +100.3%. Simply put, more email drives more response.
And it’s not just us saying this, check this out if you’re sceptical.
Personalisation works, if your data is clean
Lots of people have played around with subject line personalisation, with varied results. We found the average opens and clicks decrease (-20.7% opens). But, the spread of the data is massive. The first quartile is -73.1%, but the third quartile is +30.8%. Why is this?
The main thing about personalisation is to ensure you don’t deliver users a disjointed user experience. If the subject line is personalised, but the email content isn’t, guess what? You may gain opens, but have done nothing to drive clicks. It leaves users with a negative experience.
Furthermore, if the subsequent online journey isn’t equally personalised, once again you’ve left your users feeling like you’ve given them the old bait-n-switch.
Most importantly, if your database is old and potentially incorrect, you’re in trouble. Eyeball your data first and pick recent, engaged data for testing personalised content.
There’s always money in the banana stand
This report analysed a vast sample of subject lines. More than anything, it showed there is lots of short-run variance in every keyword sample. What matters is that you test things out to your lists, and never stay standing still. What works one week may not work the next, but if you aren’t trying out new things then you’re treading water and ultimately throwing away money.
Email still delivers the strongest revenue of any digital channel by a country mile (source). In all your tweeting, pinning, and facebooking, are you making sure you dedicate enough time to your email subject lines?
Remember – of Obama’s 30 person digital team, 24 of them were focused on email.
They knew that there’s always money in the banana stand.
To see the full list of keywords (287 common words were tested in addition to the ones above), you can download the report. (Registration required – Ed)
Today, keywords still play a significant role in search habits, and in how Google and other search engines deliver search results. The trend, however, is moving further and further away from this, especially on Google’s side. Google wants to become less dependent on keywords, and gradually doing so.
Do you see this trend as a problem or a potential problem to your online marketing efforts? Tell us what you think.
When Google launched the Knowledge Graph, it was clear how proud the company’s engineers and executives are of what they have put together.
Google’s Matt Cutts proclaimed, “It’s another step away from raw keywords (without knowing what those words really mean) toward understanding things in the real-world and how they relate to each other. The knowledge graph improves our ability to understand the intent of a query so we can give better answers and search results.”
SInce then, Google has made numerous enhancements to the Knowledge Graph, and has tweaked its algorithm in other ways that would seem to indicate a decreased dependence on keywords. In fact, there have probably been a number of changes related to this that we don’t even know about because Google stopped publishing their monthly lists of algorithm updates for some reason.
Then there’s search-by-voice and conversational search.
Google put out a pretty interesting Webmaster Help video this week in which Cutts discusses voice search’s impact on searcher behavior. In response to the question, “How has query syntax changed since voice search has become more popular?” Cutts talks about the trends that Google is seeing.
“It’s definitely the case that if you have something coming in via voice, people are more likely to use natural language,” says Cutts. “They’re less likely to use like search operators and keywords and that sort of thing. And that’s a general trend that we see. Google wants to do better at conversational search, and just giving your answers directly if you’re asking in some sort of a conversational mode.”
While search-by-voice is certainly a growing trend on mobile, Google, as you may know, recently launched its conversational search feature for the desktop, and improvements to that shouldn’t be far off.
Cutts continues, “At some point, we probably have to change our mental viewpoint a little bit, because normally if you add words onto your query, you’re doing an ‘and’ between each of those words, and so as you do more and more words, you get fewer and fewer results, because fewer and fewer documents match those words. What you would probably want if you have spoken word queries is the more that you talk, the more results you get because we know more about it, and so you definitely have to change your viewpoint from ‘it’s an and of every single word’ to trying to extract the gist – you know, just summarize what they’re looking for, and that matching that overall idea.”
Good luck trying to optimize for gist.
“If you take it to a limit, you can imagine trying to do a query to Google using an entire document or you know, a thousand words or something like that,” Cutts adds. “And rather than match only the documents that had all thousand of those words, ideally, you’d say, ‘Okay, what is the person looking for? Maybe they’re telling you an awful lot about this topic, but try to distill down what the important parts are, and search for that.’ And so it’s definitely the case that query syntax has changed. I think it will continue to change. You know, we allow people to query by images. You can search for related images by dragging and dropping a picture on Google Image Search. So people want to be able to search in all kinds of ways. They don’t want to think about keywords if they can avoid it, and I think over time, we’ll get better and better at understanding that user’s intent whenever we’re trying to match that up and find the best set of information or answers or documents – whatever it is the user’s looking for.”
These days, Google is pretty hit and miss on the relevancy front when it comes to voice search, but I have no doubt that it will continue to improve rapidly. It’s already gotten significantly better than it was in earlier days.
Can you optimize for gist? How will you adjust your SEO strategy as Google moves further and further away from keywords? Let us know in the comments.
By Chris Crum · July 14, 2013