General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Division

A service of the ABA General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Division

Technology eReport

American Bar Association - Defending Liberty, Pursuing Justice

NOVEMBER 2010

Vol. 9, No. 4

Columns

 

SurvivingEmail
Email Marketing: Best Practices From One of the Experts

Email can be one of the most powerful and least expensive ways to reinforce your expertise with clients, colleagues, and other contacts—and remain top of mind—so they think of you first when an opportunity to refer new business arises. Large law firms have been doing this for at least a decade now—through regular “client alerts” and email newsletters. Increasingly, solo and small firm lawyers are doing the same.

But how do you measure the success of an email campaign? What metrics should you focus on, and how do you optimize results?

To find out the answers to these questions, I interviewed Joshua Fruchter, Esq., principal of eLawMarketing, an online marketing agency that provides email marketing services to more than 100 law firms. His agency recently published a benchmarking report based on an analysis of nearly 7 million law firm emails distributed over a two-year period:

Q: How do law firms know whether people are interested in their email newsletters?
A: The best measure of interest in your emails is the “conversion rate” for the campaign—that is, the number of people who clicked one or more links in your email divided by the number of people who opened your email.

When someone clicks a link in your email, it signals interest. More specifically, a click means the content caught the reader’s attention, and he or she was intrigued enough by the content to take action—be it to read more about the subject discussed, or to register for an event promoted in the email.

Q. But what about attorneys who don’t insert any links in their email alerts to “read more” and instead put the entire article in an email—how can they measure reader interest?
A. Unfortunately, putting an entire article in an email is an absolute “worst” practice, since then one cannot generate a meaningful conversion rate and is limited to tracking open rates—i.e., how many recipients open the email. Alas, there is no way to distinguish between, on the one hand, someone who opened the email for a second and then deleted it (or perhaps even just passed their cursor over the email in the preview pane and thereby triggered an open), and on the other hand, folks who opened the email, were genuinely interested in your content, and read the whole thing.

In short, open rates do not signal anything about reader interest—they simply tell you how effective your subject line was—and may also help identify filtering issues at particular domains if you experience an abnormally low (or zero) open rate for certain email addresses.

Q. OK, so it’s important to include “read more” links in your emails to generate a conversion rate. But what is a good conversion rate?
A: The current legal industry norm for conversion rates is slightly north of 17 percent based on our analysis of nearly 7 million law firm emails distributed over a two-year period.

But the conversion rate for a particular email could vary for many reasons, so it’s best to look at general trends across multiple emails over several months. Over that timeframe, your rates should match the industry norms. If not, an email marketing audit may be in order.

Q: What is the purpose of an email marketing audit?
A: The purpose of an email marketing audit is to investigate possible causes for poor performance by checking for compliance with email marketing “best practices.” It’s usually a failure to comply with “best practices” that leads conversion rates, as well as other metrics like open rates, and unsubscribe rates, to fall below industry norms.

Additionally, an audit can help a firm generate higher returns on its email marketing through learning how to use the data surrounding your emails for business development.

Q. What are some email marketing best practices you can share?
A. It depends on the metric. To maximize open rates, a firm needs to use short, but compelling and descriptive, subject lines (to learn more about email subject line “best practices,” visit http://bit.ly/dpDp6t). Additionally, a firm needs to target its email more precisely. For example, an email alert about a recent IRS tax ruling should be distributed only to clients with an interest in tax issues rather than to the firm’s entire client list. Sounds obvious, but many firms don’t exercise enough discretion when assembling distribution lists.

To maximize conversion rates, make sure your “calls to action” like “read more” or “register” are rendered as text, instead of images, which can be blocked from displaying. Also, make sure your banners are not too tall (so they don’t hog all the space in the preview pane in certain email applications), and that you make good use of the upper left-hand corner of your email template—which is the most valuable “real estate” in your template.

From the standpoint of list hygiene, distribute email only to individuals with whom your firm has an existing business relationship (e.g., clients, referral sources, etc.), or who have signed up specifically to receive email from your firm.

Q. What do you see as the impact of social media on email marketing?
A. Funny you should ask. So-called pundits have been predicting the demise of email marketing for years. Culprits have included, at various times, spam, RSS feeds, blogs, texting, and now, social media.

But to paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of email’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. Consider recent research from MarketingSherpa finding that (1) an increasing number of marketers plan to leverage social media to grow their email lists, (2) email is still the most popular method for sharing a link on the Internet with friends or family, and (3) the overwhelming majority of marketers believe that social media will complement (rather than supplant) email as a marketing tool.

Such research shows that email and social media are not mutually exclusive options. So the better question to ask is: how can I integrate my social media efforts with my email marketing program to achieve optimal results in both channels?

The answer: consider strategies like including social sharing buttons in email campaigns. Or distributing periodic emails highlighting top blog posts as a method for building awareness of, and traffic to, firm blogs.

Aviva Cuyler is the founder and CEO of legal content and marketing site www.jdsupra.com. Send email signature files to aviva@jdsupra.com.

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