Fri, July 19 2013

5 tips for email optimization from the Obama campaign

Melissa Raimondi's avatar

Content Producer, Network for Good

Filed under:   How to improve emails and newsletters • Marketing essentials •

In a recent MarketingSherpa webinar on email optimization, Director of Digital Analytics Amelia Showalter shared how President Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign generated more than $500 million in online donations. No matter which political party you root for, you have to admit that Amelia’s success is impressive!

The webinar is a great companion to our recent Fundraising123 piece, “4 Tips for Subject Lines That Work.” These lessons are incredibly useful for nonprofit fundraisers looking to inspire donors through email outreach.

Here are a few especially important tips for optimizing your nonprofit email campaigns:

 

1.   Personalize asks through segmentation.

The campaign sent personalized asks to its supporters based on their previous level of donation. They also used segmentation to send multiple versions of an email to randomized, small pieces of their list before sending it to everyone. The winning message would always be one that won across all demographic groups.

Takeaway: Incorporate segmentation in your email campaigns to personalize your asks.

2. Use segmentation and A/B testing to help your next email.

Dividing your full list into two pieces is the easiest thing to do, but then you won’t have anyone to receive the winning email. To make your test count, perform one that will be useful for the next email you send. Rather than test subject lines, which won’t produce useful information beyond that particular email, try testing the format of your email. (The Obama campaign found that plainer, less stylized emails produced better results.)

Takeaway: When starting out, it can be easy to test a concept that will apply to your future emails, not just the current one being sent.

3.   The end goal is the metric that matters.

If you’re sending a fundraising appeal, click-through and open rates are important, but the most important metric is your ultimate goal: donations. If you’re sending emails to solicit donations, the most successful email is the one that led to the most donations. If you’re sending emails to get new volunteers, the most successful email is the one that led to the most volunteer commitments. If you’re sending a fundraising appeal, click-through and open rates are important, but the most important metric is your ultimate goal. If you’re sending emails to solicit donations, the most successful email is the one that led to the most donations. If you’re sending emails to get new volunteers, the most successful email is the one that led to the most volunteer commitments.

Takeaway: The most important metric is how many people complete your call to action.

4.   More is more.

People say that they are getting too many emails, but the worst result of excessive messages is usually just mild annoyance. Unsurprisingly, more people unsubscribed from the Obama campaign as a higher volume of emails went out. But surprisingly, the number of donations went up, too. The metrics group decided that since the unsubscribe rate increased in a linear, not exponential fashion, that this approach was ok with them.

Takeaway: More emails typically means more donations. We don’t advise overwhelming your supporters with too many messages, but experience and testing will help you determine the sweetspot for how often you should contact your donors.

5. Keep subject lines short.

To make every word count, really choose each word in a subject line for its added value. In some cases shorter, less formal, more personal subject lines tend to lead to higher open rates, higher click rates, and more donations. (Check out   Hey Girl Barack Obama Emails for a funny, comprehensive overview of the Obama campaign’s subject lines.)

Takeaway: For maximum impact, keep subject lines short and friendly.

You don’t have to be working on a major campaign or for a Fortune 500 company to achieve great results with your email outreach. Set aside time today to evaluate your email messages and think about what you can improve upon. Are your subject lines too long? Are you doing any A/B testing? By using simple email optimization tactics, you can learn more about your audience and take your digital strategy to the next level. Tell us what’s working for you or what you plan to test in the comments below.

 

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