Becoming an Email Investigator

Finding the Right Clues is Critical to Email Success

Get to Know Your Audience—Below the Surface

For the past few years, responsive email has been at the top of email marketing best practices for good reason. With record percentages of people using mobile phones and devices, it seems that nearly everyone is reading their email on the go.  Business professionals who read your email access it from multiple devices—desktop, mobile phone, or even tablets.  Knowing how your email is read and on what device will enable you to construct your email in a way that makes the best impression for your brand.

Once your email is readable, what else can you do to best ensure your message is seen? Unfortunately, as a marketer, we can’t just call up Gmail/Outlook/etc. and ask. But what we can do is put on our investigative hats and look for clues!

Become a Technology Sleuth

Take a look at what technology people are using to read your email.  There are a few ways to do this:

  1. Sort your list by email domain.
    This is easiest if you have a retail list, because you will be working with people’s personal email addresses. People using their work email address will likely be reading their email with Outlook, Gmail or on their phones.
  2. Take a close look at your email open reports. When you export a report, your email service will likely add in a column that tells you what email client your audience has used.

Your results will show the top services your audience is using to read your email. These are probably Gmail, Yahoo, Outlook and Apple mail on iPhones and iPads.

With this information, you can tailor your emails to the audience in a new way. Not only can you personalize your email with personalization fields, but you can also create versions of the email that look great in the software people are using to read it.

Look for Behavior Patterns—Beyond Intuition

After you determine what technology people are using to read your email, you can study behaviors.   Studying behaviors will help you craft email tests like the one below:

Hypothesis: Gmail likes simple code.  People using Gmail to view emails will respond at higher rates to simple emails versus responsive emails.

It seemed a bit counterintuitive to me at first- because so much attention has been paid to making all email mobile responsive- which uses a LOT of HTML to use a variable display.  Would an email with shorter HTML code perform better than an email with longer HTML code?

I crafted a test where a simple version (limited code) and a responsive email (heavy HTML) was sent to a similar audience of leads and contacts.

Open Rate Results:

Version A- HTML

Email Client

  1. Gmail               30.2%
  2. Apple Mail      23.1%
  3. Outlook           20.0%   
  4. Apple iPhone 11.7%

Breakdown of people who read the email (people who spent 8s+ with the email open): webkit (most email readers): 71.9%, MSWord (Outlook): 19.2%

Version B – light HTML

Email Client

  1. Gmail                    38.0%   
  2. Apple Mail          21.1%
  3. Outlook                14.4%
  4. Apple iPhone     14.2%   

Breakdown of people who read the email (people who spent 8s+ with the email open): webkit (most email readers): 78.2%, MSWord (Outlook): 13.4%

I have highlighted in red the significant differences. Isn’t that interesting? The test shows a significant lift in Gmail and Apple iPhone with the lighter code.  Outlook showed a lift with the more complex, responsive code.  Goes to show that ongoing testing and continually looking for the best practices can make an impact on marketing email. As an email professional, being an investigator is just part of the job!