I cringe when I hear campaigners refer to their fundraising and activation emails as “blasts,” because it belies the dynamic nature of how email marketing actually works. Unlike with postal mail, which is guaranteed to be delivered to the addressee as long as you pay for postage, email marketers must take additional steps to ensure their emails reach supporters’ inboxes.
The first thing your campaign should do to improve email deliverability (and subsequently open rates, click throughs, and donations) is set up email authentication, which involves making changes to your domain’s DNS settings. Next is ensuring that you apply what is sometimes called an “active screen” to your marketing emails to make sure your most engaged supporters get your email first.
What is an active screen? How do you apply it? And how does it work? Keep reading to find out.
The Active Screen
To apply an active screen simply means you are breaking up the distribution of one piece of email copy into multiple sends to different segments of your list based on their behavioral interaction with your past emails.
The most basic active screen you could apply, for example, is to first send a fundraising email to any supporter who has opened an email from your campaign in the last six months. Then, you send the email to “inactive” supporters who haven’t opened an email between the last six to twelve months. (If someone hasn’t opened an email from you in a year, you shouldn’t be emailing them.)
Depending on your list size and how much supporter data you have, you can break this up even more by sending an email first to supporters who have donated in the past, then supporters who have clicked an email recently, then to six months openers, and finally to your six to twelve month inactives.
How to Apply the Active Screen
Most email marketing platforms allow you to segment email sends based on user behavior. In Mailchimp, which I use for all of my projects, it’s referred to as the “Campaign Activity” attribute.
Depending on your platform, you may need to create these segments by manually exporting and importing subscriber behavior.
Then, you simply create, edit, test, and send your campaign as normal. To send to the next segment of your list, just copy the email and adjust your segment conditions accordingly.
How Do Active Screens Work?
Is all of this extra work worth it? Absolutely! It may seem counterintuitive that you would get better performance by sending to smaller lists, but you can immediately expect to see an increase in your relative open rates AND the total number of opens across all of your sends.
This is because one of the key factors email inbox providers, like Google, AOL, and Yahoo, look to for determining whether to place an email in the inbox, the marketing folder, or spam is their users’ rate of engagement with the sender’s emails. By sending first to your most active supporters, you’ll have higher open and click through rates. This paves the way for your subsequent sends to less active supporters to make it to the inbox.
Always remember that your email list isn’t a monolith and it’s composed of different types of supporters with different levels of engagement. “Blasting” your list only makes your email marketing less effective so use active screening to improve deliverability and your online fundraising.