Heatmaps for email marketing

Successful email campaigns begin with consumers opening your message - and yet open rates are only half of the equation. Once the email has been opened, does our email deliver the content that it was designed to deliver? Did it push the customer to take the action that we were hoping to achieve?

Mapp’s Consumer Views of Email Marketing study found that 44% of users reported subscribing to the email updates of 7 or more brands.  In a world where over 50% of email is opened on mobile devices, marketers must adjust to a harsh reality: deliver creative which contains content and offers which will produce engagement, while competing for attention with SMS, mobile applications, Netflix, and more.

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While your email marketing software will probably give you the data about your opens and click-through-rates, there is still some work that needs to be done in order to turn this data  into actionable insights.  At Mapp, we love that challenge, and have developed an email marketing heatmapping approach to help our customers understand campaign engagement across the different devices, browsers, and apps their audience uses to consume their content.  

What are Heatmaps and Why Do We Need Them?

In digital marketing context, heatmaps are visual representations of how readers engage with content. They add a layer of colors above your content in order to show which parts of the content users paid most attention to or clicked on.  Red marks the most engaged with content, orange shows high engagement, and green is for low engagement.

The most common usage for heatmaps is in landing pages, where each and every element either contributes to a higher conversion rate or interferes with conversion by taking away the user’s attention. We found it to be an effective way to analyze the performance of email marketing campaigns  in order to optimize for customer engagement in the inbox.

Heatmaps can bridge the gaps between your top line campaign metrics and actual consumer behavior, says @bsbnyc
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Going beyond the top line with  heatmaps in email marketing

Heatmaps can bridge the gaps between your top line campaign metrics and actual consumer behavior, helping to show what’s going on with real consumers.  

Desktop vs mobile open rate and ctr

We worked with a major healthcare company to look at several months of message data and creative.  Some of the key opportunity areas were uncovered through comparing the proportion of opens which came from mobile devices to the proportion of clicks that came from mobile devices.  Our client had a mobile open rate of 36% but only 20% of their clicks were from mobile – most of their clicks came from desktop.  When the creative is offering as good an experience on all platforms, you’d expect them to be pretty close to each other, no matter what those metrics actually are.  It was clear that some of the design standards they were adhering to were actually getting in the way of consumer experience  - and just bringing mobile clicks in line with desktop would be an 46% improvement.  The experience of pinching and zooming on an email – and this is one you’ve already opened – will most likely make consumers give up – and our most recent consumer views study bore this out.  So we have to provide good solutions.  

From there, we dug into each message creative and identified some of the key recommendations based on the proportion of message clicks that went to each link in the message.  Here’s a sample from the analysis:

Heatmaps in email marketing

Proof of Concept and Recommendations

Our analysis demonstrated a number of user experience enhancements, including changes in layout, content hierarchy, and message targeting.

We packaged these into actionable creative recommendations along with a sample/ Proof of concept for a reusable template. Typically, when we are working with marketers, if you hand them a PowerPoint recommendation, your client will then translate that back into a written creative brief, which usually it isn’t fun for them and it’s a lot of work for the creative on the other side to pick up what they need.  The visual approach is much more effective because it helps to get everyone on the same page, which helps our clients get what we all want – great creative that lifts engagement.

After visualizing the click rates of the campaign using a heatmap, we were able to come up with the following recommendations:

  • We recommend using a modular layout, in which each module can be reordered/deleted/added based on specific content needs. This helps optimizing the email to different devices and screen sizes.
  • CTAs should be optimized. It is critical to use the right font, button style and color. Buttons CTAs work better than textual CTAs, specifically on mobile.
  • If you have multiple CTAs you need to make sure there is a clear hierarchy between them. The more CTAs you have which are equal in size, style etc. the more friction you have and the higher the chance is to get your customer confused.

Your email campaign has multiple CTAs? Make sure there is clear hierarchy to avoid friction, says @bsbnyc
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How to get started with email marketing heatmaps

In order to visually analyze your email performance, as we did in the above examples, start with taking a single email or a multi-message sequence, and break down the click activity on a per-link basis. Then split out the open and click activity by mobile, desktop and tablet clients.  Finally, construct a visualization of the click activity on top of the creative in order to see through the eyes (and clicks/taps) of the recipient. In simple words:

  • Choose your email message or sequence
  • Break down the click activity on a per-link basis
  • Split the open and click rates by mobile, desktop and tablet
  • Construct a visualization of the data on top of the creative

It is recommended to use colors in order to demonstrate which parts of the creative encouraged more clicks.

Final Thoughts

We’ve been really pleased to see our recommendations land in the right hands and are looking forward to seeing them in the marketplace. While using heatmaps to analyze the performance of landing pages has been a common practice for a few years now, using heatmaps in email marketing is not common. I’d like to think it is equally effective and would encourage more marketers to give it a try.

Are you using heatmaps in email marketing? Got any interesting case studies to share? Please share with us in the comments below or reach out to me on Twitter @bsbnyc

To hear our discussion on the first episode of Mappcast, give us a listen here: