3 Email Subscriber Behaviors to Investigate

Most of the time, we look at gross email statistics and numbers for big picture items, often just glancing at them without putting any real thought into them. We look very briefly, very quickly at open rate, clickthrough rate, and then either slot them into canned bullet points in a presentation deck, or simply move onto the next item on our to-do list. Every now and again, however, it’s worth your time to do some deeper investigation for new questions to ask about your subscribers that could change or improve your email marketing.

I recently pulled some campaign statistics from our Publicaster email marketing software to do what Tom Webster calls “data dredging”, where you start poking around your data without a clear hypothesis in mind. Data dredging is a terrible practice for drawing definitive conclusions about your data, but it’s a wonderful practice for developing new questions to ask, new hypotheses to test.

Let’s take a look at this data dredge from my most recent newsletter:


There are three subscriber behaviors worth noting here.

Case 1: View in browser. This is an example of a subscriber who read the initial email in their email client and clicked the View In Browser link. They went from Outlook 2010 to Chrome.

What to ask: Look for commonalities among subscribers in this dataset. What percentage of people who exhibit this View in Browser behavior are using the same email client, and what percentage of people who use that email client click View in Browser? If it’s a significant number, you might have a design problem with your emails and that email client. It might always look like garbage in Outlook 2010, which could be why people using it seem to click on View in Browser more often than not.

What to do next: The recommended course of action is to take a look for yourself in the client/operating system combination and see how your email looks firsthand. You can then take action to fix your email design to work better/look better in that email client.

Case 2: Mobile to desktop. This is an example of a subscriber who read the initial email on their mobile device and then loaded the same email on a desktop web browser. In this specific example, they went from their iPhone to their Mac.

What to ask: This is a trickier case. It’s possible that the email design didn’t render well on the mobile, so the subscriber went to the desktop. It’s also possible, depending on your content, that the subscriber found information that they wanted to save or investigate on a bigger screen or on a computer with more capabilities than their mobile. For example, if you linked up a video requiring Flash in your message, an iPhone/iPad user would need to switch to a desktop with Flash installed.

What to do next: Because there are multiple reasons why a subscriber might exhibit this behavior, surveying them (informally or formally) is your best course of action. Make a separate segmentation or list of people who behave like this and ask them directly why they view your email messages on a mobile and then switch to the desktop. Is it the content? Is it the design? Then use their responses to guide your next steps.

Case 3: Save it for later. This is an example of a subscriber who read the initial email on their mobile early in the day, then read it again in an email client much later in the day.

What to ask: If you see this pattern frequently among your subscribers, it’s worth questioning if you’re sending to either the correct email address or sending at a time of day most convenient for them. Is your content something they don’t want to receive at work but they do want to receive at home?

What to do next: If you see this pattern frequently, it’s worth adjusting your subscriber preferences form to ask for a best time of day (and a timezone) to send a message, or ask for a home and work email email address preference. This will let subscribers specify with great detail exactly where or when they want to receive your mail, which will in turn boost open and clickthrough rates because subscribers will be getting email in the time and place that’s most comfortable for them.

To summarize, there’s a ton of data in your email service provider’s records that you can export and analyze for subscriber behavior. As time consuming as analysis and investigation are, there’s a possibility you could find some new ideas to test, some new questions to ask, and some new opportunities to give your subscribers exactly what they want. In turn, you might be able to generate some incredible results from your email marketing program just by making a few key changes to it – but unless you investigate and ask, you’ll never know what those changes are.

Christopher S. Penn

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