3 Secrets to Maintaining Superior Newsletter Click-Through Rates

[ 0 By
Guest blogger: Gregory Ciotti from Help Scout discusses how insight into the human mind will enable you to send the sort of emails your list wants to receive!

As your list grows, maintaining consistently strong open and click-through rates becomes quite the endeavor.

It’s easy to see that getting your message spread (and heard) is very dependent on people actually opening and engaging with your emails.

The problem is this: You can’t get to know each of your potentially thousands of subscribers personally, so how do you give them what they want?

The answer is to turn to rigorous research in social psychology.

With these insights into the human mind, you’ll be able to send the sort of emails that your list wants to receive, which will allow you to maintain industry leading open-rates.

Today, we’ll discuss 3 studies that reveal email marketing tactics that you can implement today.

Let’s get started!

A Personal Example

One reason that I wanted to address this topic is because I receive this question a lot in regards to my newsletter at Sparring Mind.

I’ve publicly revealed my open and click-through rates before (although I prefer to keep my overall list size private), and many of my readers have wondered how I maintain such high open rates with a 5-figure sized list:

Open Rate and CTR

(Here’s an actual screenshot from inside my AWeber account as well)

Open Rate & CTR

My “secret” is nothing more than relying on solid psychological principles and plenty of testing (more on that later).

Here are 3 studies that I regularly rely on to craft persuasive emails…

1.) The Information Gap

The information gap theory is one put forth by George Lowenstein of Carnegie Mellon University, and it states that as we gain tantalizing information, we seek to “close the gap” by quelling our curiosity and getting to the secrets that the information may reveal to us.

Not all that shocking, but to have some research behind this point of view is very important.

The premise that curiosity is one of the strongest human motivators is also backed by research surrounding the Zeigarnik effect and the appeal of suspense in well-told stories.

In a study examining the Zeigarnik effect conducted in 1982, researchers found that when subjects were interrupted from completing a brain buster puzzle that:

…nearly 90% carried on working on the puzzle anyway.

That means they were told they could stop working on the test, but a majority of people just couldn’t leave it unfinished.

While this cliffhanger method may be the oldest trick in the book when it comes to storytelling, I find it used very ineffectively in email newsletters. The mystery shouldn’t be limited to the subject line, in fact, that’s the last place where I would use mystery.

I like to start people off with a very direct subject line, and build my email copy with suspense, discussing some elements of the new content I’m sending them (and why it’s important they read it), but not giving away the entirety of the information.

This is most effective when using a newsletter to get people to on-site content.

So instead of saying, “Check out this new post on my 50 favorite psychology books!”, I use something like, “I’m an avid reader of psychology books, but do you know which ones are useful and which are a COMPLETE waste of time? Click here to find out!

The desire to fill in the gap I’ve left (especially when they’ve already read most of the email) is just too strong for most people to resist.

2.) Less is More Approach

In her famous study on Why choice is demotivating, psychologist Sheena Iyengar conducted a study on jams that showcased how too many options can cause “action paralysis.”

Her study focused on selling jam to customers at a supermarket, but utilized 6 flavors of jam on one day, and 24 flavors on another day.

While she noted an increased interaction from customers with the 24 jam display, only around 3% of customers actually BOUGHT the jam, vs. over 30% for the 6 jam display!

Too many options doesn’t equal more actions, it makes people shut down because they become too overwhelmed.

With that in mind, I always make sure my messages stick to the one email, one goal rule. Whenever I send a broadcast to my list, I only have one objective in mind, and only ask them to do one thing throughout the entire message.

When you are asking for multiple things, you are actually asking for ZERO things, because people won’t commit to a myriad of choices.

They will, however, be more inclined to act on one choice.

3.) Triggering Strong Emotions

When it comes to creating viral content, the secret seems to boil down to how useful the content is and also how it makes us feel.

According to research from the Wharton Business School, the strongest recurring element of viral pieces of online content had to with the content’s utility and how strong of an emotion the content evoked, specifically when it came to the emotions of:

  1. Awe
  2. Anger
  3. Surprise
  4. Anxiety and Fear
  5. Joy

Since this is the case, and since email newsletters are also a form of online content, it would make sense to implement these results to increase newsletter effectiveness, but where should we be using it?

Since we know that the information gap gets people to click, and we also know that the information needs to be tantalizing enough to actually generate interest, the answer is in the beginning of your newsletter message.

In fact, your whole first paragraph should focus on generating excitement through one of the above emotions, tailoring your persuasive message around what kind of content your subscribers are about to click-through to.

It’s all about them, not you: their fears, their joys, and things that surprise them should be the centerpiece of your intro.

As your message builds in anticipation, you should discuss how the content you are sending them addresses these problems, leaving out just enough information to maintain suspense until the final click-through.

Are you crafting your broadcasts with these emotions in mind?

The Missing Puzzle Piece

As I mentioned above, consistent testing is also part of my strategy to keep newsletter engagement high.

Since that’s the case, I want to emphasize that although these practices are solid and backed by real research, it will come down to your results (showcased through your own detailed testing) that dictate whether or not they are a fit for your overall strategy.

After all: if it’s not worth measuring, it’s not worth doing.

Your Turn

Now I hand things over to you…

  1. In a comment below, let me know what you thought of this research and how it applies to successful newsletters.
  2. Get to know even MORE about your customers by downloading this e-book on 75 Customer Service Facts & Statistics (it’s free).

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you in the comments!

About the Author: Gregory Ciotti is the marketing guy at Help Scout, the invisible customer service software that makes email support a breeze for you and your customers. Get more from Greg on the Help Scout blog.