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How Email Marketing Is Changing, Why Open Rates Are Declining, And What You Need To Do About It

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One thing constant in the world is change. And, being in this world of internet business as long as I have, I know more than most how true that is.

Things are changing. And they’re changing fast.

And, if you don’t keep your eyes open, you’ll get left behind by not adjusting to changes as they happen.

I believe one such change that is happening is in the world of email marketing.

Is Email Dead?

Hehehe…. yeah right. It isn’t dead. But, it sure as hell is changing.

Simply put, the average open rate of emails is declining. You send an email out to your email list and, odds are that less people are now opening or clicking on that email than you were seeing a year or two ago.

There are certainly exceptions. Those who do a really good job of staying in-tune with what their audience needs and wants and really deliver a lot of value can (and do) get very nice open rates on their emails.

However, the average open rate used to be between 20% and 30%. Lately, people have been reporting lower open rates than that. And, then there’s the click-through rate. I’ve talked to many folks, for example, about their webinar attendence rates and they’re reporting that it is declining, too. In other words, you send out some emails to invite your subscribers on a webinar and less people are now showing up than was considered average. It used to be that about 50% of webinar RSVPs would show up live on the call. Now, we’re seeing between 30% and 40% attendance.

What’s happening here?

Put Yourself Into The Mindset

There’s a good chance that your email inbox is now this…. thing. It is this thing you have to deal with. You don’t even really want to confront it because it is this task you can rarely ever complete.

Plus, a lot of people are well aware of this concept of “inbox zero”. Your goal is to zero out your inbox… and when that’s the goal, you get offly free with that delete/archive button. If the email you’re getting doesn’t immediately jump out at you or require action on your part, you’re a lot more likely to simply delete the email. You look at it as noise.

Chances are if YOU are doing this when you answer your email, then your subscribers are, too.

And that means that YOUR email message to your subscribers had better knock it out of the park every time, or YOU just became noise. Your email will get deleted.

Making matters worse, the email services out there TRACK this stuff. If they see that your subscribers are not ever engaging in your emails, then your emails become less likely to make it through in the future.

In a way, the world of email marketing has EdgeRank in the same way Facebook does – just different.

Size Doesn’t Matter. Engagement Does.

In the world of internet marketing, the point people used to love to brag about is how big their list is. It is like the new “biggest dick” contest for internet marketing. 😉 Whoever has the biggest email list is king.

But, that isn’t true anymore.

Engagement is what matters most today.

See, there’s that old social media buzzword coming back to relevance again.

Open rates and click-through rates are more important than the size of your email list.

And, how do you get these figures up?

Same way as you do on social media. By posting seriously interesting stuff, by asking questions, by interaction back and forth (not just “blasting” people) – all the same basic stuff you’re told to do on social media to, you know… be SOCIAL.

Marketers get pissy with Facebook because their messages don’t reach all their fans. They bitch about EdgeRank. Well, as much as they hate it, it serves a function. And, as much as they may have never thought about it, the basic jist of EdgeRank exists in the world of email marketing, too. The more engaged your email subscribers are, the most effective your marketing will be.

Stop Blasting Your List. Think Segments and Interests.

A lot of old-school internet marketers are probably freaking out right about now as they see their open rates drop. It is because they are “blasting” their entire lists over and over again, and not engaging.

Hell, it was the IM crowd which invented this slang of BLASTING a list. When you subscribe to an email list, do you want to be BLASTED? I bet not.

Plus, you sign up for one thing of interest then you get blasted with messages that may or may not be relevant to you.

I readily admit that I’ve been guilty of this myself. While I never use the term “blast” because I think it sets a bad vibe (and I respect my subscribers immensely), I have been treating my list as one big whole. Whenever I want to email out a new post or promote something, I emailed my entire list about it. You may or may not have been interested.

So, instead of blasting your whole list every time you have something to say, how about we start treating it not as a list, but as a DATABASE. A database of subscribers. And, like any database, we have other fields attached to each record. Fields like what they’re interested in and what they want. Then, when we have something to say, we send it to those people who are most likely to actually be interested.

This is a key reason why I recently switched from Aweber to Office AutoPilot. Because I can do some fine-tuned tagging and other pretty ninja things with OAP and begin treating my email subscribers in a different way.

I truly believe we need to begin to grow out of the traditional email marketing approach of emailing our entire list simultaneously.

Today’s email marketing is about engagement. And that means sending the right message to the right person at the right time.

But, Let’s Think Beyond Email

I began this post by talking about how change is constant. And one of the net effects of this is that things have gotten more complicated.

It used to be that we could only concentrate on building our list and everything would just work out. But, that is changing and – yes – this makes our jobs more complicated.

If engagement is key, then we need to begin thinking not of LISTS, but of COMMUNITY.

And community can exist in many places across the web. Which brings me to social media.

As online marketers, we need to be paying as much attention to our social media communities as we do our email lists. Because, I think these communities are EXTENSIONS of our email lists.

In other words, you will have multiple “touch points” to your subscribers. Their email inbox, their Facebook experience, their Google Plus experience, maybe even Youtube (which, let’s face it, IS a social network at its core)… and other places.

In the world of online advertising, there is a thing called “retargeting”. It means you can have ads show up on other sites which essentially follow people around. If you’ve ever visited a web hosting site and then “magically” see a banner ad for that hosting company on some random blog you’re on, then you’ve been retargeted.

Well, the same concept applies to your online marketing and email list. If your subscribers can be reached through their inbox, their social channels, and other platforms they may be on, then it serves the same kind of effect as retargeting.

As Pat Flynn says over on the SPI blog, “Be Everywhere“. He speaks of it in terms of content syndication, but as email marketers, we need to begin to think about it, too.

And, just to give you an idea of how this could work…. did you know that if you set up your own Google Plus community and had your subscribers join it, then you could build up the interaction with them between emails? And that makes them more likely to interact with your emails because they’re more engaged? And, BTW, a lot of people have G+ notifications set up to be sent to their email box. It is a direct pipeline into Gmail. So, post something into your G+ community and you have guaranteed delivery into their email box as long as they have notifications turned on. Starting to see the power of that?

How about when Google starts putting Community groups into search results? 🙂 Nice.

Online Marketing Isn’t Nice And Linear Anymore

… and that’s one of the shifts I’ve realized for myself recently. And I’m making some changes in my business because of it.

I’ve been doing things the old way. And, if I keep doing it that way without adjusting, I’ll lose relevance.

We live in a 3D world online now. We have to be doing multiple things at once. We have to learn to deal with it.

Internet marketers used to smirk at social media as a fad, or at least something which wasn’t all that important for business. Some people in IM used to practically BRAG when they deleted their Twitter account because is distracted from more important things.

Well, things change. Frank Kern, one of the original “gurus” in the IM space, is now attracting almost all of his business through Facebook.

Things change.

If you agree with the message in this post, I’d be honored if you’d share the post below. 🙂


  1. Chris Dunn says:

    Good stuff Dave… I totally agree with the segmenting of lists. You’re at a huge advantage if you can isolate people by their experience levels and what makes them “tick”.

    – CD

  2. Dave Doolin says:

    I’m speed reading a lot of email these days to stay up on the big picture.

    The best person I know at segmenting is probably Ramit Sethi. He uses one or two question surveys with yes or no answers.

    1. David Risley says:

      Yeah, I’m looking into that, too. I’ve also seen Mixergy do this when you sign up for their list. Its slick stuff.

  3. Brian Dawson says:


    Very nice article – I agree with all of it.

    Being in internet marketing myself and getting messages out to people, this is right up my alley.

    I like your comments on segmenting the list…it’s very important to get relevant messages to the right people on the list so the content makes sense to them.

    Another thing I like to do with certain segments is to send them a text message (which they usually answer right away) saying that I just sent them an email about __________. After reading this text message, they usually click on the email – more likely than not to read the email I sent them.

    1. David Risley says:

      Nice idea. Who do you use for this? One of my friends here in Florida started up Call Loop, which does that.

  4. I also moved over to OfficeAutoPilot and their support is awesome.
    I have only just begun using it and I know that with the ability to segment and
    tag my list plus send text to their cell, I can let my imagination run free!

  5. Stephanie says:

    Very good article! I will continue reading previous posts in hopes of using your advice and tips to make my blog successful (and hopefully) profitable. Keep it up!

  6. Billy Murphy says:

    (think I misclicked and didn’t submit previous comment, hopefully didn’t double submit)


    What % of your time do you spend on emails/email marketing for your business? A lot of bloggers talk about spending the large majority of their time on this- I spend close to 0% of my time on it with the reasoning that I feel like it’d be bothering my list unless it’s something I feel they absolutely have to hear. Would love to hear your thoughts on this.

    1. David Risley says:

      Well, in terms of percentage, I don’t know. I can tell you it is certainly more than zero. 🙂

      Honestly, your attitude about your list is disheartening, IMO. If they signed up specifically to hear from you, why are you so scared to email them? Why are you approaching it from a standpoint of being bothersome or annoying? They signed up to hear from YOU!

      Yes, you only want to send them stuff they’ll care about. It would be bothersome if you didn’t. However, the solution is to have more things to send them that they’ll care about. 🙂 But, simply not emailing them isn’t very workable. They’ll forget all about you, which completely defeats the point of having an email list and community.

  7. Good one David,

    Yeah I agree YouTube is a social media platform at the end of the day AND it’s a search engine as there are more videos showing up in google search than ever.

    Problem is you can’t control your subscribers like you can with an email management system.

    Where do you see email in 10 years?

    1. David Risley says:

      That’s true, but that’s why you need both things happening.

      10 years? Hell if I know. If I could predict this stuff that far out… 🙂

  8. Dear David,

    You keep hitting the nail on the head with these super tips.

    Any statistics on “click through” rates?


  9. Is Email Dead? Not hardly. Email is alive and doing well. It’s just that we need to get better at using it. Apparently some marketers don’t have a clue – that people on their lists are becoming annoyed by all the emails they receive – right on top of each other. Today, they’re selling one thing; the next day, they’re selling something else. Pretty soon, I find myself getting turned off and ready to click the unsubscribe button.

    You could have tons of incredible content, but it would be a fatal mistake to blast your email list with everything you’ve got. Using more discretion and better timing can allow your message to achieve better results. Over-saturating your list is spamming. This is an opportunity for wiser marketers to look good.

  10. danielle says:

    Hi, this was the latest I found on your site about email services, it was from 2013…perhaps an update?

    I’m trying out Easysendy any thoughts? It seems to have a pretty poor help but up to 15-k emails, to 100k users for $20 a month…no affiliate program but…Am I going to do another bluehost mistake, I hope not.

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