How to Respond to a Low Response Rate


Low response rates to your email? What you can learn from--and do about--low response rates

One of the best things about email marketing is that it’s easy to measure the effectiveness of your effort. But it’s hard to analyze data if the numbers just aren’t there. Sometimes, an email tanks. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t still learn from it.

There are several types of responses that are useful to measure. Unsubscribe Rate is a good thing because it can tell you that the recipients aren’t interested in your products or company. A high unsubcribe rate can point to a bad list, bad branding, or a spammy-sounding subject line. Just say good riddance to them; they’re better for you off your list than dragging down your deliverability by clicking “junk” or deleting without opening.

A low Open Rate (especially when compared to an A/B test) can clue you into a poor subject line (but one that’s not so bad that it triggers a spam complaint or a deletion).

A low Clickthrough Rate (despite a reasonable Open Rate) is the mark of a good subject line, but a poor offer or creative. Your subject line’s only job is to get people to open the email. But if the creative inside doesn’t meet the opener’s expectation or desire, your marketing effort dies on the table. It could be as simple as adjusting the copy or changing the images. Or you may be biting off more than you can chew by attempting a complex sale in the email, rather than prompting the reader to click a link or make a call. Using a landing page is usually a better way to draw people from a click to a sale than by asking for everything at once.

A low Conversion Rate after they click should help you shine the light on your landing page quality, a design or technical issue with your ecommerce site or checkout process, or perhaps your live sales process. Involve your design team or sales staff to determine the reason the cart was abandoned or the conversation ended, and then make adjustments in messaging from there.

When all else fails
Typically, those who don’t respond to your email just aren’t interested in your offer or creative–or at least they weren’t at the time you sent it. But a response rate that’s suddenly or consistently on the wrong side of the decimal point (or far below average for your company or your industry) might be the result of some other cause beyond your timing, offer, or design.

If your response rate is in the weeds or suddenly takes a nose dive, here are five possible reasons that may be the culprit—and some potential cures.

1. Not using a permission-based list. Unless your in-house email list is permission-based, you’re simply asking for a low response rate because you are emailing people who never said they wanted to hear from you. Be sure you know each and every way that names are added to your list. If sales is dumping in names after a trade show, for example, you’ll want to put a stop to that practice. Even adding the names of customers without their consent is risky. It might be within the limitations of CAN SPAM because there is a pre-existing relationship now that they’ve purchased from you. But buying from you once does not mean they want to hear from you weekly.

Segment your list based on how names are added and compare the response rates of the different segments. You will likely see that names added without permission have a lower response rate than names acquired by signups at your website. If particular list segments consistently respond poorly, dump them. They’re only hurting your deliverability.

2. Choosing quantity over quality when growing your list. This is usually related to the cause described above: not using a permission-based list. Take a look at how your company grows your in-house email list. Are you using double opt-in? If not, you may be emailing too many people who don’t want to hear from you. Hence, the low response rate. Remember, it is far better to be emailing 1,000 people who do want to hear from you than 10,000 who don’t.

3. Using the wrong email service provider (ESP). If your list-building practices are stellar and sound, but you’re still getting a horrid response rate, your email service provider is the next possible culprit to investigate. ClickMail may be able to help you with a free trial to another ESP, by which you can compare your results using A/B testing of your list between two vendors

4. Getting blacklisted. If your response and delivery rates were consistently acceptable and then took a turn for the worse and stayed there, you might have an ISP issue that got you blacklisted. Have you worked to consistently inch that delivery rate upward? If not, start there. You’ll find plenty of online advice on improving email deliverability that should help your delivery improve and therefore your response rate.

5. Not keeping your sender reputation clean. Neglect your sender reputation and you might see your delivery rate slide downward, taking your response rate with it. ISPs pay close attention to your reputation, relying on it to tell them how trustworthy you are. Should they allow your emails into their customers’ inboxes? They look to your reputation to find out. Find out your sending reputation at www.senderscore.org. If you discover you need to clean up that reputation, review these tips for managing, improving, and protecting your sender reputation.

Be sure your best practices are inline with the advice above, and you’ll keep these culprits from interfering with your response rate. From there, keep testing and tweaking and moving that response rate ever upward!


About Marco Marini

Marco Marini has been at the forefront of email marketing since its inception as a channel. Prior to co-founding ClickMail, Marco developed pioneering email campaigns for CyberSource, eHealthInsurance, DoveBid and IBM Canada while holding key marketing roles in those organizations. Through his experience on both sides of the email marketing table--client and agency--Marco has developed significant expertise in using email to its full potential to generate substantial return on investment for marketers, management and investors. As CEO at ClickMail, Marco’s main focus is defining the company’s strategy. However, he also spends time advising clients on how to leverage enterprise-level ESP technology as a primary engine for business growth. His expertise in every aspect of email enables Marco to guide clients and ClickMail’s internal teams to develop sophisticated campaigns that employ best-in-class strategies, overcome technical hurdles, and meet business objectives. Marco was born in Canada and grew up in Italy. He and his wife are the parents of four children. He is active in the Silicon Valley Italian Executives Council and is on the Northern California board of Stop Hunger Now.

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