A year ago, Bazaarvoice conducted a series of tests that eventually lead to as much as 146% increase in email campaign conversion. Success only came, however, after we realized and adapted to a fundamental shift in email technology. This shift affects all of us, so any email marketer could likely achieve similar results. There’s just something you’ve got to know about email.
You won’t tweak your way to a eureka-moment
Email is an extremely effective way to encourage customers to write reviews. Post-purchase emails reach customers at a contextually relevant time, and they allow reviewers to bypass site authentication. In 2011, post-purchase email recipients wrote 55% of Buckle.com’s product reviews. Buckle was an ideal candidate for email optimization testing given their active campaigning.
The email template Buckle had been using worked fairly well: For every 100 emails Buckle sent, 25 customers opened them, three clicked the calls-to-action, and one person submitted a review. Nonetheless, our teams wondered if improvements to the visual design and copy could positively impact conversion. The new templates were heavily branded, incorporated professional photography, and played on various emotional appeals.
And they all failed. No single template greatly out-performed the rest, and after three months, we had to either call it quits or try something new. We wanted to discover something that would improve post-purchase email conversion for all our clients, and none of these templates offered anything compelling.
If you can’t beat ‘em, pivot
We realized we wouldn’t tweak our way to a eureka-moment: Visual design and copy could only take us so far — but what else was there? In August 2012, we didn’t know, but we were okay with that. We would set aside all our predilections and take a completely naive approach to email campaign design.
Litmus estimates that 38% of email is opened on mobile devices. If email were invented yesterday, email designers would build templates that are readable on smartphones, right? And so emerged a new hypothesis: Smartphone-friendly designs would increase conversion by making the end-to-end experience better for everyone.
Qualitative testing in our user lab led us to design some very boring templates. They were linear, practically image-free, text-based… but they were also highly readable. Smartphone users didn’t have to pinch, pan, zoom, or even scroll down to read the primary message and tap the call-to-action. And this, we found, is what they care about.
We also redesigned the landing page, thus ensuring an entirely smartphone-friendly end-to-end experience.
Finally, we used fluid styling and responsive techniques to make sure the templates and landing page looked decent on any display size. Even so, we were pleasantly surprised when Buckle permitted us to send these boring, ugly templates to thousands of their customers!
And then this happened.
Bam! Our best-performing template drove up the daily average 146%! We were blown away. This was success. We finally disrupted the status quo.
The new templates out-performed the others in every way: Open rate (30.4%), click-through rate (11.25%), and overall conversion (3.04%).
Now is all that matters
I could conclude with a list of email design best practices, but the moral of the story is: best practices change. Our initial three months of testing were a distraction. We were well versed in traditional design principles and prescribed recommendations, but we knew nothing about how people use email today. When we pivoted, we learned who our audience really is, we realized that email is a mobile thing, and we figured out what practices are best now. In today’s era of rapidly evolving technology, now is all that matters.
Stay tuned: “Throw out best practices, double email conversion – Part II” discusses unrecognized audiences and their conversion potential.