5 Secrets To Getting Subscribers To Forward Your Emails
Social sharing gets a lot of attention — in large part, because it’s relatively easy to measure — but the all but invisible email forward can be just as powerful for brands. Whereas social sharing is public, diffuse, and powerful at driving top-of-the-funnel awareness, email forwards are private, targeted, and excel at driving bottom-of-the-funnel action.
To better understand email forwarding behavior, Litmus (my employer) used its Email Analytics tool to measure the forwarding activity from more than 400,000 email campaigns. We then analyzed more than 200 campaigns from the most forwarded 1% of emails and compared them with an equal number of campaigns from the middle-of-the-pack median, looking at differences in tactics and email topics.
The findings, detailed in The Viral Email report, sometimes reinforced common sense but other times revealed counter-intuitive approaches. Here are five key tactics for spurring email forwards, including two not included in the report.
1. The Smaller The Audience, The More Viral The Email
Small, niche brands appear to have a distinct advantage when it comes to forwards per open for their email campaigns. The more pointed content they include in their emails causes more subscribers to forward it, which makes a lot of sense. After all, if you know someone who’s passionate about some narrow topic, then you’re probably quite inclined to forward an email to them about that topic from a brand that’s dedicated to that subject.
Conversely, emails that appeal to a broad audience don’t inspire forwards at a high rate.
For large brands with big email audiences, the key to higher forward rates is segmentation and triggered messaging. Among the top 1% of most viral emails, we were able to unmistakably identify 29% of them as either segmented or triggered. These two tactics help brands narrow the audience that they’re appealing to and target them with much more relevant content.
For instance, we examined email campaigns with more than 50,000 opens and those with less. (Assuming a 20% open rate, these are sends of around 250,000.) The campaigns that had fewer than 50,000 opens generally had forward-to-open rates that were twice as much as those that had more opens.
We didn’t include it in the report, but we also sliced the data at 20,000 opens and at 200,000 opens, looking at forwards per open at campaigns above and below those levels. The results were largely the same, which means that brands don’t have to hyper-segment to effectively generate pass-along word of mouth via forwards. For large brands with many millions of email subscribers, an audience segment of 1 million can be effective.
2. Personalization Allows You To Reach Others
It may seem odd, but the more tailored an email message is to an individual subscriber the more likely they are to forward it to others.
It’s worth pointing out that we’re not talking about first-name merges and other superficial forms to personalization. We ignored those in our research. Instead, we focused our attention on dynamic content and other content that was more deeply personal.
For example, one of the content tactics that appeared in several of the campaigns we looked at from among the top 1% of forwarded emails involved including photos of the recipient or their friends and family members from an event they attended. In that context, it makes perfect sense that recipients would forward this email to others, as it saved them the effort of downloading the picture and attaching it to a new email for sharing.
3. When You Say, “Share On Social,” Subscribers Hear, “Forward This Email”
Surprisingly, the strongest tactic that we found for spurring forwards was including a “share with your network” (SWYN) call-to-action in your email. Emails in the top 1% of forwarded campaigns were 13 times more likely to contain a prominent SWYN link than emails in the median 50th percentile.
By “prominent” we mean that the link was included in the primary content block and not in the header or footer of the email. SWYN links that are placed right next to the message to be shared are proven to be much more powerful action-drivers, so our research focused on those and disregarded ones placed elsewhere.
The influence of SWYN links is a bit counterintuitive. Marketers are asking subscribers to “Share this on Twitter” and “Share this photo on Facebook,” and at least some subscribers are taking this as their cue to forward it instead. Apparently consumers view forwarding as an alternative to or the equivalent to social sharing.
4. Single-Subject Emails Are More Sharable
We didn’t formally track this, but anecdotally there is very strong evidence that emails that are about one single topic are significantly more viral than emails about multiple topics.
We believe this design consideration influences forwarding because forwarders don’t want to have to explain what in the email the forward recipient should pay attention to. If the email is about one thing, then there’s not much to explain.
This finding is another reason for email marketers to hold the line on email content and push back on the pressure from various departments to include what might be distracting secondary messages in certain emails. In the age of growing mobile email readership, the trend is already strongly toward emails focusing on single topics because of screen real estate constraints.
5. Simplicity Spurs Forwards
Beyond the focus on a single topic per email campaign, we were struck by how many of the most viral emails were very simply designed. Honestly, some were almost painfully simple.
As a company that celebrates innovative email design and gets excited about CSS hacks and other coding tricks that enable new email interactivity, we fully expected to see some fancy, sophisticated email designs. But that was not the case. The email campaigns that were forwarded the most were visually very simple, had a clear message hierarchy, and were incredibly concise and to the point.
That’s not to say that many of these messages couldn’t have benefited from a bit of polishing up, but it’s clear that a simple message clearly communicated is powerful in spurring forwards.
Email forwards increase your reach, raise awareness of your brand, aid in customer acquisition, boost email engagement, and lead to higher conversions and sales. Use these five tips to encourage more forwards, particularly when you have an important, share-worthy message.