If you could improve only one thing about your email marketing, what would it be?

If you’re like most email marketers, it would be your engagement rate. That’s what a survey of email marketers found earlier this year:

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Unfortunately, that same survey showed that the second biggest barrier to achieving email marketing success was… increasing engagement rates.

This isn’t too surprising. Most of the metrics we track for email marketing are engagement-based. Opens, clicks, click to open ratio, conversions, and orders – they’re all different flavors of engagement.

Engagement rates can even overcome list size. If you’ve got a huge list, but rotten engagement rates, you can actually end up with fewer results than someone else with a smaller list but far higher engagement rates. And engagement rates affect deliverability rates, too…

So it’s no surprise we’re all focused on engagement rates. But what can we do to improve them? Well, you know the best practices, right? Here’s a few of them:

  • Send triggered emails
  • Segment your emails
  • Personalize your emails
  • Make your emails mobile-friendly, if not full-on responsive
  • Include valuable information in your messages (make your emails worth reading!)
  • Test and optimize your subject lines (and preheader text)
  • Send your emails at an optimal time
  • Purge old and inactive subscribers from your list

The list could go on, but those are the most common tactics. The question is, how exactly do you execute on that list? Your email service provider can help you with a lot of those, for sure. But there are a few tools that can help you, too.

Like these:

1. Gifmaker.me to make static images into animated gifs, and FreeGifMaker.me to make YouTube videos into animated gifs.

Animated gifs stand out in the inbox. When they’re used right, they add not just visual delight, but also re-enforce your email’s message.

They get clicks, too. In an A/B split test from the email agency StyleCampaign, they got 26% more clicks with an email that had an animated gif, versus the same email with a static image.

Here’s the animated gif version. It’s super-simple – the first frame of the video just changes to a couple of different shots. That’s all they had to do.

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Take note: There are many other tools to create animated gifs. I’ve just found those two (Gifmaker.me and FreeGifMaker.me) to be better than average.

 

2. Nifty Image’s countdown timer.

It’s proven: Countdown timers improve click-through rates and conversions. And if you add the right emoji to a subject line, they can increase open rates, too.

Here’s an example of countdown timer I came across just yesterday. It’s being used to drum up excitement for a Cyber Monday sale.

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3. Click to tweet (https://clicktotweet.com).

It’s not well-known, but emails are a content sharing powerhouse. Neil Patel says “email subscribers are 3.9 times more likely to share the content via the social web.”

The trick is to make it easy for them. Click to tweet does that. It’s a simple tool that lets you embed pre-formatted tweets into web pages, press releases… even emails.

Here’s what one of those emails looks like:

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This is a double-win if you can get your subscribers to use it. Not only will it increase your email engagement rates, but it will also get more of your content shared.

4. Touchstone subject line testing tool.

Of all the tests email marketers run on their emails, subject line tests are the most common. This is a good thing – they show you what works and can lift your results. The problem is… you learn what works after you’ve sent the emails.

What if you could A/B split-test your subject lines before you sent them? That’s exactly what Touchstone does. Here’s a sample test I ran just now:

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Touchstone has a free trial, but after that it’s at least $69 a month. But if you’re sending a significant volume of email, it could easily pay for itself.

Take note: There are other free subject line testing tools. But Touchstone seems to be the best of its kind.

5. Return Path’s Geo Email Monitor.

Remember how I recommended making your emails mobile-friendly as a way to improve engagement rates? This is a tool to help with that. It can also show you where and how people are engaging with your emails.

Geo Email Monitor can be used a testing tool. It lets you split-test your emails and see how the two variations compare with your mobile users. It’s free, too.

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Return Path actually has six different free email tools that can help you improve your engagement rates. They are:

  • Geo Email Monitor – See where and how people are interacting with your emails.
  • Sender Score – Troubleshoot any problems with deliverability rates.
  • Blacklist Lookup – Find out if you’re on a blacklist.
  • Email Marketing Check-up – Benchmark your email program against other senders in your industry.
  • Unsubscribe Calculator – Find out how many email subscribers you’re losing over time.
  • Sample Size Calculator – If you’re doing any testing, you’ll need to use appropriate sample sizes to get reliable results.

 

6. NiftyImages for personalized images.

Personalization is one of the best ways to improve engagement rates. Personalized email messages get 14% higher click-through rates and 10% higher conversions.

But you might be able to do even better.

Enter personalized images:

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Nifty Images lets you create personalized images just like the one above. It takes barely five minutes to do. You can use your own images and fonts, with a variety of other tools like opacity, skew and tilt. You can also set people’s names to expand to fill the space, and set a default value if someone’s name is too long to fit.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be just their name on the image. Whatever data field you’ve got, you can put it on an image and give every subscriber a unique experience.

7. Open to Give

Ever been on one of those charity sites where you look at ads to support a charity? Open to Give is kinda the email version of that.

Here’s how it works:

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The advertiser wins because they get more clicks, plus they get a “halo effect” by publicly supporting a charity. The subscribers win because their actions are supporting a charity. The charity wins because they get donations based on how many people opened the emails. And they get exposure to new audiences.

 

Get more action

There isn’t a tool for creating inbox actions yet (correct me in the comments if I’m wrong), but I really wish there was.

Inbox actions are just what they sound like – actions you can take with an email from the inbox view of the email. In other words, you can do stuff without actually opening the email. Like confirm your subscription. Or confirm an appointment. Or a bunch of other things:

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For right now, if you want to do stuff like this, you’ll need a MailChimp account (they offer email confirmations via inbox action). Or you’ll have to hire a developer.

If you’ve got the budget, it might be worth the investment. Inbox actions take one click out of the conversion process, which could result in much higher conversion rates. That’s why this is on my shortlist of tools I wish someone would create.

 

Conclusion

There are dozens of ways to improve email engagement rates. Any one of these tools can help with that. But remember – the metric you really want to be tracking is final conversions. It’s great to have super-high engagement rates, but if you’re just getting people to click via gimmicks (but not actually closing the sale) you haven’t made enough progress.

 

Back to you

There’s gotta be a few great email tools I haven’t mentioned here. If you know of one – please! – mention it in the comments.

 

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Author: Pam Neely has been marketing online for 18 years. She has a background in publishing and journalism, including a New York Press Award and a Hermes Creative Award for blog writing. Pam holds a Master’s Degree in Direct and Interactive Marketing from New York University and is the author of a bestselling Amazon Kindle book “50 Ways to Build Your Email Marketing List.” Follow her on Twitter @pamellaneely.