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When Jane Moritz first approached Small Biz Triage in January of 2016, she was looking for a way to use her newsletter to increase revenue for her online kosher bakery, Challah Connection. Her baked goods sold very well during the holiday seasons around Rosh Hashanah, Hanukkah, and Passover. But she believed there was an untapped opportunity between the holidays, as well.

“Jane is very proactive and hands-on when it comes to her marketing, which is something we enjoy about working with her,” Small Biz Triage owner Seth Rasmussen says. “There was a lot that she was already doing in terms of optimizing her SEO, maintaining a good social media presence, and growing her subscriber list. But she wanted our help in growing beyond the seasonality of the business.”

Nate Wright, founder of Small Biz Triage, saw the first step as taking a careful look at Moritz’s previous campaigns.

“We want to look at these campaigns in a historical context, because with someone who has seasonality tied into her business so tightly it becomes more critical to understand how she’s varying subject lines, content, length, and so on,” Wright says. “We know there will be higher sales seasonally. But do we also see good habits in place for the newsletter?”

In fact, they did see that Moritz was on the right path. Small Biz Triage embraces the philosophy that business owners should be approachable and responsive—part of what they describe as being “unapologetically human.” As it turned out, so did Moritz.

“Her subscribers were already happy to reply to her,” Rasmussen says. “She was doing that very well, giving people direct access. But the challenge then becomes how do you make sense of the feedback? When you’ve got tens of thousands of subscribers, a handful of replies is an awfully small population sample to base decisions on.”

To determine the right next steps, Wright and Rasmussen wanted more data.

Assume at your own peril

“People are fickle,” Wright says. “Using the same tactic over and over never works. But that said, we do have certain hard rules about how we do what we do.”

“The first rule is that we don’t assume anything about how your audience wants to interact with your emails,” Rasmussen says. “Everybody who hires us has done their homework. They’ve read posts and articles about best practices and used them to develop a strategy. And those are great things to try, absolutely—but you then have to measure it to determine if it actually worked.”

With a client like Moritz—one with an active, engaged subscriber list—there was already a lot of potentially helpful data available. Rasmussen was interested to see what converted, but he was equally curious to see click rates and reader behavior.

“I’m always interested to see where, within the newsletter, the clicks are occurring,” Rasmussen says. “If you hear from one reader that they don’t like something, but that same piece of content drove 75% of your clicks, you don’t listen to that one reader.”

Rasmussen and Wright particularly focused on data from click maps. These maps show precisely where, within a newsletter, a subscriber chooses to click—whether on an image, a button, or a link embedded in text.

“The great thing about having a click map is that we could show it to Jane and say, hey, here’s what people are actually engaging with,” Wright says. “It’s not something you could build into a spreadsheet, but when you dig into the behavior you can begin running tests to find the ideal layout for your newsletter—or the right blend of text, buttons, and images.”

Some of the data Small Biz Triage has gathered from click maps has been eye opening.

“We never use social media icons anymore—we know people don’t click on them,” Wright says. “A lot of clients push back on that, but we have the data to back it up. With Challah Connection, the only social media we use is the share icon, and we’re very deliberate about where we place it beneath the fold.”

As useful as it is, data alone isn’t enough. And that’s where Small Biz Triage’s second rule comes in.

"The 2 big figures are revenue and per-campaign revenue. But we’re also looking at clicks-per-unique-open, and that’s a little stat very few people look at. We’ve found that’s a much better indicator of engagement."

Eyes on the prize

“You have to know the outcome that you want,” Rasmussen says. “That’s the second rule we follow. Because sometimes clients will want you to try something but can’t articulate what the goal of that tactic is. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case with Challah Connection.”

Moritz’s goal was clearly defined: boost sales during the non-holiday seasons. So Small Biz Triage got to work studying her business’s past revenue and strategized based on that data.

“The 2 big figures are revenue and per-campaign revenue,” Wright says. “But we’re also looking at clicks-per-unique-open, and that’s a little stat very few people look at. We’ve found that’s a much better indicator of engagement.”

To track as a click-per-unique-open, a reader must be interested enough in the email’s content to click a link within. It shows engagement that goes beyond a clever subject line that might prompt an open.

As they gathered data and experimented, the next step was to change the way that Moritz’s lists were segmented. Rather than focus on demographics, or even open rates, Wright and Rasmussen focused on the segment most relevant to their revenue goal: subscribers who spent money.

Segmentation is where we make the money,” Wright says. “Because now we’ve been able to segment out a list of the people who are engaged and purchasing. That’s why it’s important to know your goal. Sometimes Challah Connection doesn’t have the best open rates, but revenue-wise they’re making more money because the people who do open the emails are the ones that buy.”

It’s a continual process of refinement, and what worked for a segment once may not work again.

“It’s really a question of what makes a good test—what’s statistically significant,” Wright says. “Sometimes you get lucky and totally crush it, and then when you try that strategy again it just doesn’t work a second time. But separating those pieces out, and running the test again to see if it still holds true, is how we’ve kept increasing revenue.”

Don’t panic

Over the years, Small Biz Triage has seen a lot of change in the email marketing industry. Sometimes that change worries clients—but it doesn’t have to. If any of your clients share some of these common fears about their email marketing campaigns, here’s some information to help reassure them.

1. “Aaa! I’m in the Promotions tab!”
It’s not the spam folder, but seeing a carefully crafted email relegated to Gmail’s Promotions tab can feel pretty discouraging to clients. But Rasmussen doesn’t see it as a reason to worry.

“People freaked out when that tab first rolled out,” Rasmussen says. “But, if you’re sending promotions, it actually makes sense for your email to be there. Otherwise, your readers will manually move your emails to that tab, which makes for a worse user experience. It’s really not a bad thing.”

2. “Aaa! My social media icons are missing!”
We talked earlier about how Small Biz Triage doesn’t allow social media icons in their email newsletters. And they’ve got the data to back it up; those icons just don’t attract many clicks. But Wright suggests another reason why you should leave them out.

“You’ve done all this work to get someone to read your newsletter. You took them from a social media post to a website to a sign-up CTA to finally opening your email. After that whole process, why kick them back into a social media trap of distraction?” Wright says. “It should be a one-way street, and it ends at email.”

3. “Aaa! My beautiful graphic won’t fit in the template!”
Sometimes clients just need a little more education about how to be effective with newsletters, including why it’s OK to use templates.

“So many e-commerce store owners are still in a flyer mentality,” Wright says. “They create an elaborate Photoshop image that they want to dump in the MailChimp template. But it doesn’t work, and it’s a disaster on mobile. With every client, we tell them to use the MailChimp drag and drop features. And believe it or not, people like to read. You don’t need the big graphic. You’re sending email to adults, and you need readable, interesting copy.”


Illustrations by Sarah Neuburger, an Atlanta-based freelance illustrator and designer.