By flooding email service providers with auto-generated opens, Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection (MPP) has substantially devalued email opens and dramatically increased the value of the next most common email action—clicks.
In the wake of MPP, clicks have become much more important in two critical areas of email marketing. First, clicks have become central to engagement-based algorithms, such as send time optimization and subject line optimization tools, which were previously almost entirely focused on opens. At the same time, auto-generated opens are now typically ignored by these algorithms. So, generating more clicks from your subscribers helps boost the performance of these engagement-based algorithms, which themselves in turn help deliver more clicks.
And second, marketers are using clicks more actively to manage inactive subscribers. Despite Apple’s move to obscure opens from senders, inbox providers still want brands to only send to recipients who are engaged. And good deliverability is just as important as it’s always been to email marketing success.
The good news here is that Oracle Digital Experience Agency has discovered with our clients that a click is twice as strong as an open in terms of qualifying a subscriber as safe to mail. So, while a subscriber might, say, be safe to email if they opened at least one of a brand’s emails in the past 180 days, they’d be safe to mail for 360 days if they clicked. The bad news is that clicks are still far too rare a signal for most brands.
To drive higher click rates, brands need to use a range of strategies that span multiple stages of the Email Subscriber Lifecycle, from acquisition and onboarding through the stages of engagement. Here are seven areas of opportunity.
1. Improving Permissioning
Many email marketing programs use a single opt-in (SOI) process that relies on subscriber engagement early in the relationship to confirm opt-ins. With opens no longer available as a confirmation signal for many of your subscribers, it’s time to reassess your opportunities to use double opt-in (DOI) permissioning.
Check out our Audience Acquisition Source Ideas checklist, which indicates the subscriber acquisition sources for which it’s most appropriate to use DOI. But also look at your own subscriber acquisition source data. If your sources are producing high levels of engaged subscribers with SOI, then there’s no need to switch to DOI. However, if one or more of your acquisition sources is attracting non-MPP users with low open and click rates, or MPP users with low click rates, then it may make sense to add DOI to capture a strong engagement signal from the start of the relationship.
Keep in mind that the goal isn’t to have a 100% DOI confirmation rate. After all, you’re using DOI because you recognize that some of your opt-ins are harmful and overly risky. You want DOI to screen out bots and malicious signups, as well as subscribers who aren’t likely to engage. That said, you can take a number of steps to simplify and streamline your DOI process to maximize confirmations.
2. Stronger Onboarding
If you’re concerned about moving to DOI, you could consider as a half-measure revamping your onboarding with an eye on driving clicks. Honestly, even if you use DOI, you should consider strengthening your click-based calls-to-action in your welcome emails by:
Whether during the signup process itself, through a preference center, or via a survey or poll, collecting subscribers preferences can be particularly powerful in driving clicks, says JT Capps, Strategic Director of Analytic & Strategic Services, Oracle Digital Experience Agency.
“As one of the five principle messaging strategies for welcome email CTAs, profiling is key for onboarding strategies to gather more information about the new subscriber,” he says. “Our Responsys clients who leverage Link Categorization to personalize email content based on previously clicked content have seen a roughly 7x lift in unique click-through rates and 3x lift in revenue per email.”
3. Tighter Management of Never-Actives
Never-actives are your new single opt-in subscribers who haven’t engaged at all yet. With MPP obscuring opens for many subscribers, most brands have many more never-actives than they’ve ever had before. Because these subscribers represent a significant risk to deliverability, having clear mechanisms for addressing them is important.
“For example, one of our clients suppresses never-engagers after Day 25,” says Ana Jablonski, Director of Analytic & Strategic Services, Oracle Digital Experience Agency. “This program begins on Day 26, at which point they stop receiving promotional sends and instead receive a series of three emails over 8 days asking them to confirm their interest. The creative is all very straight-forward, directing them to a Click to Continue CTA.”
While that implementation is a traditional re-permission email that suppresses emails to subscribers who don’t click to affirm their interest, some of our clients have also found success with campaigns early on that simply ask subscribers to click a link to continue getting emails, says Peter Briggs, Director of Analytic & Strategic Services at Oracle Digital Experience Agency.
“In this case, the email doesn’t give an ultimatum to click or else we’ll stop emailing them, so it’s not a true re-permission email, but it’s in the same spirit,” he says. “It’s worth noting that we A/B tested this approach against a rich discount and our pseudo–re-permission email trounced the discount in terms of driving that first email click.”
4. Adding Non-Promotional CTAs
Historically, when subscribers were between buying cycles, email marketers relied heavily on opens as an indicator of continued engagement. With opens being less reliable now, marketers need to include content in their emails that’s non-promotional and drives clicks.
That content could be:
Regarding that last tactic, using a feedback banner within a specific program or series of promotions can be an easy way to both drive engagement and refine targeting for future sends, says Briggs.
“Storing the clicks for a particular banner is easy to do on a PET table and then that table can be referenced as a suppression input,” he says. “This is a relatively easy workaround for those brands that don’t have robust preference centers that align to all of their email types. Several of our B2C clients have seen success using this strategy, which also improves the customer experience by boosting the relevancy of messages.”
Regardless of which particular tactics you embrace, the point is that subscribers can find value in this content without spending money. That said, part of the aim is to use this non-promotional content to nurture leads, grow brand loyalty, inspire evangelism, and expose them to content that may increase their likelihood to purchase in the future.
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5. Optimizing Your Calls-to-Action Wording
In addition to adding new CTAs to your signup process, onboarding, and marketing emails, also consider optimizing your existing ones through A/B testing.
Our 4-point plan for testing CTAs entails:
6. Focusing on Above-the-Fold Real Estate
In addition to optimizing the wording of your calls-to-action, also consider the design and positioning of your CTAs within the email to maximize their impact. We’ve had particular success with our clients in moving CTAs above the fold, so subscribers don’t have to scroll to see them.
“For one client, we tested re-positioning the CTA for the primary content module above the hero image instead of below it,” says Briggs. “We saw a roughly 8% increase in click-through rates.”
7. Click-to-Reveal Campaigns
While we’ve voiced concerns about creating friction in the email experience post-MPP by moving content that was previously in your emails to landing pages instead, one tactic that’s fairly accepted by subscribers is click-to-reveal offers.
“Often, they’re part of a bigger ‘build up’ story,” says Allie Pietro, Senior Designer for Creative Services at Oracle Digital Experience Agency. “The first email usually has a Stay tuned for something new message. The second is usually the definitive countdown. And then the third is the click-to-reveal, forcing subscribers to click the CTA and go to the brand’s website for the deal or announcement.”
Just like other forms of urgency, Briggs cautions not to overuse this tactic, since it does add some friction to the subscriber experience.
“For instance,” he says, “you might consider only using click-to-reveal offers with subscribers who haven’t engaged recently. For your engaged subscriber, you could just show them the deal in the email.”
On their own, none of these strategies will get you dramatically more clicks. However, used in combination with each other, three or more of these can help compensate for the loss of opens caused by Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection, while fueling your engagement-based algorithms and improving your deliverability management.
For example, with one of our retail clients, we overhauled their click-to-reveal campaigns and reaped impressive gains, says Cathie Richter, Designer for Creative Services at Oracle Digital Experience Agency.
“We added a bit of storytelling and animation to each hero module, moved the CTA up to above the fold, added a secondary CTA, and improved accessibility by adding live text and alt text, as well as optimizing for dark mode,” she says. “Compared to the previous design, their click-through rate jumped more than 60%, as did their revenue for these campaigns.”
Need help adapting to Mail Privacy Protection? Oracle Digital Experience Agency has hundreds of marketing and communication experts ready to help Oracle customers create stronger connections with their customers and employees, even if they’re not using an Oracle platform as the foundation of that experience. Our award-winning specialists can handle everything from creative and strategy to content planning and project management. For example, our full-service email marketing clients generate 24% higher open rates, 30% higher click rates, and 9% lower unsubscribe rates than Oracle Responsys customers who aren’t.
Want to better understand your email marketing risks and opportunities, take advantage of our free Email Marketing Assessment. Our experts will check your deliverability, review your email creative, audit your signup process, do a partial competitive analysis, and more. If interested in this free assessment, reach out to us at OracleAgency_US@Oracle.com.
Chad S. White is the Head of Research at Oracle Digital Experience Agency and the author of four editions of Email Marketing Rules and nearly 4,000 posts about digital and email marketing. A former journalist, he’s been featured in more than 100 publications, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Advertising Age. Chad was named the ANA's 2018 Email Marketer Thought Leader of the Year. Follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Mastodon.