Top 10 Tips Toward More Email ROI

In the first two blog posts in my series on email ROI, we looked at Email ROI Benchmarks, challenges associated with measuring the effectiveness of your own email program, and a range of different ROI models to prove the value of your email investment. In this installment, we will look at some of the most effective strategies you can employ to drive even more value out of your email programs.

While there is a broad range of approaches you can leverage to optimize email program performance, some are particularly impactful in delivering ROI.

1. Meet subscriber needs. Here are some of the most common things subscribers want to receive from their emails:1

  • Discounts (38%)
  • Free samples/gifts (35%)
  • Free delivery (33%)
  • Loyalty program offers (26%)
  • Competitions (26%)

Subscribers who are regularly served with content they most want to receive will be more engaged and more responsive. Get some inspiration from Return Path’s The Art and Science of Effective Subject Lines report, and learn the best – and worst – keywords to drive email opens.

2. Grow your list. It stands to reason that more subscribers will generate more returns. However, address quality is as important as address quantity. The 3 major factors that influence consumers to share data are:2

  • No third-party share (64% to 71%)
  • Trusted brand (58%)
  • Provide marketing choices (51% to 59%)

If these requirements are met as part of the acquisition process, subscribers will be more likely to provide a primary email address, which are more likely to engage and less likely to churn, maximizing their lifetime value. The following illustration from Return Path’s Frequency Matters: The Keys to Optimizing Email Send Frequency graphically illustrates the importance of this:



Learn more by Reading Return Path’s 50 Ways to Grow Your Email List ebook for a set of simple but effective tactics to increase email opt-ins

3. Get delivered. More emails in the inbox mean more revenue. However, one out of every six email messages never reaches an inbox.3 To improve inbox placement rates, check your performance against our handy Getting into the Inbox Checklist which covers 10 deliverability fundamentals.

You should also make sure that your program is accredited with Return Path’s Certification program. Red Letter Days went through this process, and saw attributable revenue from email increasing by 10%. (Read the case study here.)

4. Optimize for clicks. As seen in the first part of this series, click-throughs are the most popular email effectiveness metric. The following techniques are considered the most effective click drivers:4

  • Meaningful call-to-action offer (65%)
  • List segmentation for targeting (47%)
  • Message personalization (42%)

Also ensure that the click-throughs themselves are visible and actionable. You can read an excellent blog post by my colleague Jamie Cain on this topic.

5. Mobile is the new norm. 71% of marketing emails are now opened on a mobile device,5 and consumers are rapidly overcoming their reluctance to convert directly from smartphones and tablets. Mobile revenue now makes up 20% of all email-generated revenue.6

Importantly, click-to-open rates are 40% higher for brands that send exclusively responsive emails versus brands that only send non-responsive emails.6 There are also distinct trends across the 24-hour day that sees smartphone opens highest early in the morning, while tablet opens are at their highest later in the evening.5

Program owners who optimize for these two factors will generate significantly greater program revenue as a result. See Return Path’s 5 Mobile Trends to Watch for more interesting stats.

6. Pull the trigger. Research from Epsilon7 shows that click-through rates for triggered emails are 150% higher than for business-as-usual emails. Data from Return Path’s Strategy Mapper Labs solution further validates the effectiveness of triggered emails:



At present, triggered emails account for less than 4% of all email volume, but already generate 30% of all email-attributable revenue.8 It’s predicted the majority of email revenue will come from this source once more than 5% of email volume is triggered.9

Program owners who haven’t yet leveraged this opportunity can start simple: birthday (75%), anniversary (74%), browse re-targeting (73%), welcome (72%) abandoned cart (72%), post-purchase (67%), win-back (64%), and re-engagement (63%) emails are all considered highly effective techniques to drive email engagement.9

7. It’s cheaper to retain customers.: Let’s talk a little more about win-back and re-engagement. A whopping 70% of companies say it’s cheaper to retain a customer than acquire one, and 49% say that, pound for pound, they achieve better ROI by investing in relationship marketing over acquisition marketing.10 Previous DMA data also supports this view—median return on investment for customer emails is $28.50, compared to a mean customer acquisition cost of $55.2411

Return Path’s own research into email win-back programs identified a 14% re-activation rate across the 33 retail programs reviewed.

There is a clear commercial imperative for doing this as well. Research from Experian Marketing Services12 showed the average value of re-engaging 100,000 inactive subscribers could be worth as much as $1M annually.

8. Send more email… maybe! This is one of email’s great debates. Sending more email indisputably generates more transactions, driving up short-term program revenue. However, it may also increase list churn and decrease subscriber engagement, which reduces long-term program value. Program owners need to strike a balance between these two conflicting objectives:


To resolve this, I thoroughly recommend reading an excellent piece of research for which John Foreman (Mailchimp) and Rene Kulka (Email Marketing Tipps). These articles help senders build a model that identifies the point at which the gap between these positive and negative outcomes is maximized, and therefore delivers greatest return on investment to program owners.

9. Watch out for the bad guys! Return Path’s latest report on email fraud shows 9% of all email messages attributed to large commercial senders between Q4 2014 and Q1 2015 did not come from their IP addresses, and should be considered suspicious.

This is generally a security conversation, but more recently we have been considering brand impact. Subscribers often fail to differentiate between valid and invalid emails, so trust in legitimate emails erodes as a result,leading to reduced revenue. This real life retail sender shows the impact on read rates in the 72-hour aftermath of a spoofing attack:


For a program generating $1M per month, a 15% reduction in effectiveness for three days each month means a potential cost of $180K per year (based on one attack per month).

Many program owners have little/no visibility of this threat. As a starting point, they should be implementing DMARC authentication, and investing in Email Fraud Protection solutions to proactively identify and eliminate phishing and spoofing attacks.

10. Life after clicks. While we’re very focused on email optimization, this is just the start of the journey. Your subscribers’ post-click experience is fundamental to whether they transact or not. Industry research shows conversion from email is typically between 2.5%3 and 3.5%13—more than 19 out of 20 clickers don’t transact.

Once subscribers have clicked, they want to know two things: “Am I in the right place?” and “How long will this take?” Conversion optimization seeks to address these, and some simple starting points include:14

  • Focus on creating urgency and immediacy.
  • Reduce friction by optimizing text, colors, and content.
  • Use deep-linking to place subscribers as far down the conversion funnel as possible.
  • Serve up pages as quickly as possible.
  • Use web analytics to review the most likely points of abandonment.

These steps all merit investment in time and resources. If a program sending 100 million emails per year and generating $180 AOV improves email conversion from 3.0% to 3.1% it will generate an additional $385,000*­ in directly attributable revenue.

*based on industry average inbox placement, open, and click-through rates

Return Path customers have been really engaged with the measurement and ROI webinars, and with this series of blog posts we have published to complement them. We’ve also received loads of really great questions, so in the final part of this series I’ll cover a selection of those questions. Reach out to me directly if you have a question of your own, and I’ll include the best ones as part of this upcoming FAQ blog.


  1. DMA National Client Email Report 2015
  2. Fastmap (“Consumer Attitudes to Data”)
  3. Return Path Email Deliverability Benchmark 2014
  4. DMA Email Tracking Report 2014
  5. Marketing Week/Movable Ink (“Brands failing to optimize emails for mobile devices”)
  6. Yesmail (“Email Marketing Compass: The Season of Mobile 2015”)
  7. Epsilon Email Trends & Benchmarks Q3 2014
  8. DMA National Client Email Report 2015
  9. Salesforce Marketing Cloud Blog (Chad White – “The New Litmus Test: Do You Have a Great Email Marketing Program?”)
  10. Econsultancy Cross-Channel Marketing Report 2014
  11. eMarketer/Marketing Charts (“Digital Ad Spending Benchmarks by Industry”)
  12. Experian Marketing Services – 4 Tips to Smarter Email Marketing
  13. Experian Marketing Services Quarterly Email Benchmark Report Q1 2015
  14. Emma (“Clicks are only half the battle: How to turn engagement into conversions”)

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