Email Marketing How Is Done

No matter what industry you’re in, you always look at the top-dogs and think, “Man, I wish I had their resources.” Hundreds of employees. Thousands of social media followers. Millions of dollars in budget. It seems like they can do everything better and quicker than you.

But when it comes to email marketing, a lot of times it’s they who envy you.

For example, did you know 26% of the most well-known sites don’t even send a confirmation or welcome email? Guess they didn’t want those new subscribers to stick around, anyways.

Or how ‘bout the 37% of marketers at bigger brands that wish they could switch email service providers, but they can’t because “they feel stuck with their current provider.” Feels nice to have options, doesn’t it?

That’s why I dug into 106 of the top sites (most visited, biggest fan base, hot risers, etc) across the biggest industries on the internet to see what was really going on in the world of email marketing.

I opted into all their lists (my inbox is crying). Analyzed their sites. I even snooped around to see what email service provider they used. I wanted to see what these big kahunas were doing so:

  1. You could see what they do right: Why reinvent the wheel? Most big sites spent a lot of money on making things perfect. You can spend $0 to copy their processes.
  2. You could find their weaknesses: Even the big guys get stuff wrong. If you’re in any of their industries, you’ll see exactly how you can get a leg up on them.

And after all that work, here’s the state of email marketing in 2017…

NOTE: If you want to see how each individual site performed (106 in all), download the spreadsheet I used to take all these notes.

1. 22% of sites make it difficult to opt-in to their email list

Let’s start with the most egregious finding of this study. While 78% of sites make it dead-easy to sign up for their list, 22% STILL make it difficult.

“Easy” means an opt-in area somewhere clearly visible — a popup, a bar on the top of your page, or even a form on the side of your site.

“Difficult” means a variety of things:

  • Hiding your form on a completely unrelated page
  • Only including your opt-in form on one page
  • Burying your signup in a link at the bottom of a page
  • Making a visitor click through on one page to go to another page to sign up

Basically anything that isn’t completely obvious or reachable on any page. Which begs the question…

Why are the top sites making it hard for you to give them your email address?

Almost ¼ of the most popular sites seemingly don’t want your email address. That’s just silly.

We’ve talked at length on the importance of building an email list. We’ve even ranked the 20 best places to collect emails on your site.

Every day you don’t collect emails, you’re literally losing money and putting the future of your business or blog in the hands of other companies.

Just make it easy to opt-in to your email list and you’ll be ahead of established leaders.

2. 74% of sites send a welcome email

The welcome email is one of the most important emails you can send. It’s instant gratification, a conversation starter and a first impression all rolled into one.

Good news: Almost ¾ of the biggest sites send a welcome email. That means the industry leaders recognize the importance of a welcome email, too.

But it’s not the kind of welcome email you’d typically expect. That’s because…

3. 79% of welcome emails are double opt-in

Yep, four out of every five emails are of the double opt-in variety. For those that don’t know, a double opt-in email is a way to keep your email list free of spammers and fake addresses.

That means 79% of time I opted-in to these sites, I’d instantly get an email like this:

email like this

If I don’t click that button, it means I won’t get that website’s emails. It may seem like a hassle, but it keeps your email list healthy (and keeps you from spending a ton of money sending to fake subscribers).

With almost 80% of major sites using double opt-in, it seems list security is becoming more important than ever.

4. The average welcome email hits your inbox in 1 minute, 7 seconds

That number is an average, because some industries average instantdelivery, while others average north of four minutes.

Ideally, you want that number as close to instant as possible. Every second of delay means you risk losing your new subscribers interest. That’s especially bad if you’re using double opt-in emails.

And you also have to take into account how many email service providers are used. Some may send emails faster than others.

Speaking of email service providers…

5. Mailchimp still dominates the email marketing landscape

Since 74% of the sites sent a welcome email, I could only take a gander at their email providers. Here’s the breakdown of that group:

That’s an awfully big slice of the pie for MailChimp. They’ve been around since 2001 (technically), and their free tier is devastatingly effective for drawing people in and keeping them with the company.

What’s more surprising is how far back everyone else is — it’s essentially even usage across the other 11 ESPs.

But besides being the established leader, there’s another reason why MailChimp keeps a tight hold atop the pile…

6. Mailchimp stays out the promotions folder

This was a really interesting side effect I found during this study. If you use Gmail, your inbox probably looks like this:

By default, you usually check your primary inbox. Maybe if you’re bored or trying to avoid eye contact with strangers you’ll check your other folders.

Basically, it’s not a great place for your emails to land. And of all 29 sites using MailChimp, only TWO landed in my promotions folder…and those were the emails after the initial welcome email.

On the other hand, ConvertKit emails found there way to the promotions folder 44% of the time.

(Editor’s Note: I personally like ConvertKit, and it has one of the highest satisfaction scores among users. They just sometimes end up in the promotions folder is all.)

When you choose an email service provider, keep an eye on how many emails go into these folders. The goal is to land in primary as much as possible.

7. The fashion industry is on top of their email game (while the gaming industry just stares and points)

I ranked the industry giants from most email-savvy to least based on a few things:

  • Ease to opt-in
  • If they send a welcome email
  • How long it takes to deliver
  • If they follow up within a day (keeping engagement is key)

Out of all the top fashion blogs I analyzed, every single one sent a welcome email. AND, every one of them made it easy to opt-in. They know there’s money in them thar lists.

The gaming industry, on the other hand…

Only 22% sent a welcome email. And that’s because the other 78% didn’t even want my email address.

If you’re in the fashion industry, you’ve got your work cut out for you.

If you’re in the gaming industry? The world is yours for the taking.

Breaking down the major industries

The funny thing is, each industry had their own quirks and preferences. Some made it almost impossible to opt-in, while others almost exclusively used Google’s FeedBurner to deliver emails.

Check and see how the top dogs in your industry performed (in alphabetical order).

Special Notes:

  • Every single website I opted into sent a welcome email. Not only that, but every single welcome email was a double opt-in. Seems the fashion/style industry loves a safe, engaged list.
  • This industry is dominated by two email service providers — MailChimp and….FeedBurner. For those that don’t know, FeedBurner is basically an RSS service provided by Google. The emails look like this:

welcome message

Nothing wild, but FeedBurner takes care of all your emails for you.

  • This was one of the easiest industries to opt-in to. Almost every site had a prominent signup box. Bravo.
  • It seems lifestyle sites value emails so much that many built in-house solutions to send emails. It was the leading choice among all the sites (Convert Kit following closely behind).
  • This was the easiest industry to give my email to. Everything was seamless and incredibly front-facing.
  • This was the only industry where the most common email was a tie. Of course double opt-in was up there, but the thank you email was just as prevalent. Here’s what one looks like from Tim Ferriss:

welcome letter example

They’d thank you for signing up, then suggest articles to read or videos to watch. It makes sense — if you’re already sending an email to say thanks, you might as well give your newly engaged readers something to consume.

Marketing Industry

Blogs Analyzed:

Social Media ExaminerBacklinkoSearch Engine JournalSmart Passive IncomeSeth GodinMozSearch Engine LandUnbounceJeff BullasLewis HowesSocial TriggersContent Marketing InstituteBufferHubspotWistiaCoElevate

Percent that Sent Welcome Email: 81%

Average Time to Inbox: 4 Minutes

Most Common Email: Double Opt-In

Average Ease of Finding Opt-In Form (1=Hard, 10=Easy): 8

Most Used ESP: Infusionsoft

Special Notes:

  • Surprisingly, the marketing industry had the longest average time to inbox at four minutes. However, that was slightly skewed because one blog took over 15 minutes to send their email.
  • An interesting find — Infusionsoft was the preferred ESP of big marketing blogs. But if there were an industry for that to happen, it’d be in marketing. Infusionsoft is an incredibly powerful system, but it’s really difficult to master. The marketing industry is where you’d find those pros that can tame Infusionsoft.
  • Marketing had the most diverse welcome email set — ranging from double opt-in emails, thank yous, gifts and asking a question. Each site had wildly different goals and expectations of their new subscribers.
  • Weird, but relevant — five of the welcome emails ended up in the promo folder (the majority coming from Infusionsoft).

Written by Sean Bestor