Does your inbox look like mine? It’s a daily flood of sales pitch after sales pitch.

“Buy This!”

“Flash Sale!”

“You can’t live without our product!” (this subject line is usually trying to sell some sort of clothing, which I most definitely can live without. I’m a jeans and a t-shirt kind of a girl, marketers. Your dress is NOT life or death for me.)

On average, I unsubscribe from four emails per week. Still, I don’t hesitate to sign up for other email lists *just in case* I’m interested in what they have to say. It never hurts to test the waters, right? And that unsubscribe button is so easy to hit. Boring-be-gone!

I use this pattern of behavior as an experiment. What emails do I stick around to read? What emails make me cringe? What’s the market doing that’s working and failing? What are the email marketing best practices I should use for my business?

You’re probably not the self-inflicting pain type like I am. You want what you need in your email inbox and nothing more. You’re normal. I’m not (and I’m not afraid to admit it either).

The Experiment

If you have an email list of your own (and as a business owner, you should) it doesn’t hurt to test these email marketing waters yourself. Chances are you’re subscribing to two different types of emails:

  1. Those relating to your industry;
  2. Those you’re interested in on a personal level.

Both are enlightening. Both offer value. Both can steer you in the direction you’d like to go with your email marketing approach.

At least that was the case for me.

After all the scanning of subject lines and email content, I looked at the emails that managed to make the cut. What was it about these emails I was so fond of? Why am I sticking to this list instead of so many others?

After digging in, I noticed two types of emails I loved to receive. One were digest style newsletters and the others were more personal notes from a blogger to me (plus thousands of other recipients but the message felt like it was meant for me).

As a big time, outspoken proponent for showing your human side in business, I have always steered clear from the newsletter style emails. Instead, I’ve tried keeping things more personal so my email recipients felt the same. Still, I wondered what would happen if I broke the mold of familiarity and moved into something a little different. What if I combined personal contact with digest style emails?

With that, “Read. Write. Riff.” was born.

The Hypothesis

I was excited about this email. I was going to put the digest style information up top, then offer a few personal tidbits about writing and my opinion on specific marketing pieces below. There were a few reasons I chose this approach.

  • It allowed me to continue to drive traffic to my website – something every email should attempt.
  • It still let me build an emotional connection with my reader through the writing tip and riffing sections.
  • I could offer email subscriber exclusive content (which is a fantastic incentive to get folks to sign up).
  • It was a unique style of newsletter, so I wouldn’t fade into the background of another “me too” approach.

After deciding on this route, I rolled out the email. I promised myself I’d give it a few months to see what happened. If you’re not trying, you’re not succeeding, right? I wanted to know what my readers wanted. I slaved over the weekly emails every Thursday morning and then watched the analytics throughout the afternoon. The response surprised me.

The Results

Over the course of eight weeks, here’s what I saw:

  • An increase in subscribers. Yay! People were intrigued by this new email marketing style.
  • An increase in unsubscribes. Boo! Something wasn’t resonating with my readers.
  • An increase in click rates. Yay! People were clicking the links to read my posts and the others I shared. There was interest.
  • A decrease in replies. Boo! Fewer people were hitting reply and talking to me.

The higher subscriber rate and click-through rate should’ve been enough to make me happy. Unsubscribes don’t bother me as much. If I can’t serve someone, they’re not doing me any good being on my list. There’s no sense in me bothering them with an email in the same way I don’t want to be bothered by other emails.

The decrease in replies was the hardest pill to swallow. I love hearing back from people when I send an email. I missed that one-on-one interaction.

I had an epiphany. I wasn’t even in love with these emails. Sure they were fun to write but I didn’t look forward to it in the same way I did the personal letters I used to write. Those were more enjoyable. It felt like me, a human, talking to another person. It was conversational. It was real. It was the brand I wanted to build.

With that, “Read. Write. Riff.” was retired.

The Lesson

Every brand is different. I still look forward to reading the digest style emails from some companies, regardless of the lack of personal interaction.

My favorite emails though? They come from the people who treat me like a person. They’re sent from an individual to me, another individual. It’s a conversation. It’s an invitation. And it feels better than any type of ugly, snoozefest of a newsletter. I never hit unsubscribe on those. The others? I’m unsubscribing regularly without apology.

What type of email do you send out in your business? What type of email do you prefer to receive? Let me know in the comments below!

7 thoughts to “Email Marketing Best Practices: An Experiment

  • Beth

    Really interesting, Kimberly! I am always wondering what to do with my email newsletter. I currently do the personal style you’re talking about, but I never know how it’s being received, aside from a few responses and not too many unsubscribes. This makes me think I should leave it alone … thanks for sharing your results!

    • Kimberly Crossland

      It never hurts to mix things up a bit, but every time I’ve tried steering a little further away from the personal route, it comes back to bite me. Glad this experiment helped!

  • Ingrid Cliff

    Love the testing and measuring you are doing! It definitely depends on your audience and your personal style. For many years I used to start with a chatty intro. I then tested dropping it to see what happened. Open rates increased! All I can put it down to is most of my clients are tradies – so getting down to business seems to work with them. That said, it’s time to mix things up again and see what happens. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Kimberly Crossland

      It’s all about knowing your audience! Thanks for stopping by, Ingrid.

  • Ashley

    I love reading about your experience with this. I too love the more personal emails.

    My biggest struggle is separating my newsletter from my blog. For the life of me I can’t figure out how. I think because my blog is my biggest, best, favourite space. I really open up there. So anything I want to say goes on my blog. I guess I need to learn to hold back once in a while and save some content just for my newsletter? That’s hard for me!

    • Kimberly Crossland

      That is tough. You dont’ have to break too far away from what you’re writing on your blog and in your newsletter. If you write a quick personal note to your reader for your email newsletter but leave the meat of it on your blog, that could work too. It’s all about testing and finding out what your specific audience wants from you.

  • John S.

    Nice experiment. One thing I love here is reading the results of the experiment. A proven results! See us also at


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