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How Quibb Keeps Daily Email Open Rates between 50% and 70%

When fellow newsletter creators hear that the open rates of Quibb’s daily digest email hover between 50% and 70%, I get a lot of questions. People are curious to hear what has worked to keep the open rate so high and what I’ve learned or experimented with over the past 6 months.

Quibb is a professional news site that allows people to share what they’re reading for work, with an attached “daily digest” style email. Here are some recent open rates:

recent daily digest open rates

There are several tactics that have helped to maintain these open rates over time, along with some tweaks and adjustments that have worked well to keep them high over the past few months. Let’s dive in to what has worked…

1. Find Out What Subject Line Format Your Readers Prefer

Originally, the daily digest email had a horribly long subject line. For example:

headline one

The intent here was to try to leverage the positive associations and social proof the subscriber had with these names mentioned in the subject line. But it resulted in a boring, often repetitive list of names and a meaningless date. Focusing on the social aspects of your product can be powerful, but only if that’s the full intent of that email.

Instead, a daily digest of links should focus on the links themselves to encourage the person to open. Members were much happier with an adjusted subject line that featured the most popular link within their network for the day. For example:

headline two

This format exposes the content but also adds a bit of social context by including some names that have meaning to the subscriber.

2. Preempt Spam with Double Opt-in

An easy and common way to increase deliverability and curtail any spam issues is to send a confirmation email when subscribers first sign up for your newsletter. Make sure to send this confirmation email from the same email address that your newsletter will be sent from.

When the person first signs up, you have their attention, and they’ll be more likely to dig through their spam folder to find the confirmation email (if you’re unlucky enough for it to be routed there). Double opt-in has become standard and leads to a cleaner, higher-quality list.

I had a problem with spam initially, as some words within the body of certain subscribers’ first daily digest emails (which was user generated and beyond my control!) were picked up by various spam filters. Those subscribers were lost forever. However, adding the confirmation step helped to maintain these new subscribers. In fact, the confirmation email had a 100% open rate, establishing follow-on delivery success.

3. Provide Clear Choices of Email Options and Unsubscribe

If you’re sending different types of emails, make it very clear to your subscribers how to select which emails they want or don’t want to receive. Don’t cause email exhaustion by over sending.

email notification settings

Also, pay attention to how these defaults are set, and make sure that the defaults add value and aren’t overwhelming to your typical new subscriber.

4. Tune Your Scheduling to the Optimal Frequency

The category within which your newsletter fits can give you some clarification and high-level guidance on sending frequency. For example, if your content is timely (i.e., flash sales, news), then daily makes sense. In the case of Quibb, the content is professional and best fits with members’ work days, so the Quibb daily digest is sent only during the week. This adjustment was made after noticing that traffic to the site was much lower during the weekends.

low traffic weekend

I also noticed that, on holidays, the open rate was very low, as was the traffic to the website. I then adjusted the mailing schedule to exclude holidays, as people don’t work on holidays and are less likely to want professional content on those days. Put yourself in your subscribers’ shoes and try to understand any nuances that might indicate when they’d rather not receive your email.

Be sure to check out the KISSmetrics infographic The Science of Social Timing Part 2: Timing & Email Marketing:

Email Timing

5. Sort Content Intelligently

If you’re sending the same content to all or most of your subscribers, you can play around with both the layout and content and run some quick A/B tests to determine what resonates best .

However, if each subscriber receives unique content, you should apply an algorithm to sort through and rank the content. The algorithm tries to assign the human task of curating to a computer. You can tailor your algorithm to pull the most popular and relevant content to place at the top of the email so there’s something interesting immediately visible once opened.

Also, people don’t like to make too many decisions about what to click on. Too much content can lead to people not opening your newsletters, as it becomes a chore to decide what to engage with. Help make that decision a bit easier by either manually curating your content or applying an algorithm.

Notifications that indicate person-to-person interaction are really powerful and should be immediately visible. With Quibb, if you have a notification of social activity (e.g., new follower, someone has voted on a link you’ve submitted), that notification is placed at the top of the daily digest email. Put any similar high-impact interactions or notices near the top of your emails.

Email Screenshot

6. Be Willing to Axe Emails if They Aren’t of High Quality

People subscribe to your newsletter because they have expectations about what it will deliver, and how it will provide value to them. If you don’t or can’t meet that bar, don’t send it!

This goes the same for blogging and the famous first rule of CopyBlogger.

With Quibb, if there are not at least 10 links from people that a member follows in their daily digest, that person doesn’t receive an email that day. It’s much better to meet expectations around quality versus simply sending out a low-quality email because you believe that you should.

7. Clean Up Your List, but Don’t Abandon Inactive Subscribers

Most people with an email list know that you have to keep it clean in order to maximize open rates. While this is important, it’s also a good idea to reactivate subscribers who have gone dormant. If a subscriber hasn’t interacted with daily digest emails over a certain period of time (I use 28days), they’re put into an “inactive” state and are no longer sent the daily digest.

Keep in mind, though, they haven’t taken the full step of unsubscribing. To try to reactivate these subscribers, I apply an algorithm to look through all “inactive for more than 28days” subscribers each day and select 10% of that group to randomly receive a daily digest email. If a subscriber interacts with that 1-off digest, then they are returned to an “active” state and put back on the daily schedule.

8. Put Yourself in the Reader’s Shoes

Quibb is a member-only news site, with the initial membership composed of professionals from the tech and start-up industries. Members share links to articles and other content that they’re reading for work. You can follow people working in areas that are of interest to you (e.g., gaming, email marketing, VC, user acquisition) to read what they’re reading. The daily email is a digest-style newsletter. It contains links that people you’re following have either shared or read that day.

Since Quibb is a news product for professionals, a daily digest email matches the inherent frequency of that product – reading news is an activity that most professionals expect to do every work day.

> Think about the category your product falls under: what sending schedule makes sense?

Members are expecting and have subscribed to the content that’s in their newsletter. It’s based on the other Quibb members they’ve chosen to follow.

> What are your subscribers’ expectations? How does an email fit with their expectations for your overall product (if one exists beyond the newsletter)?

The daily newsletter solves a real problem for members. They’re accustomed to reading news for their job, and appreciate that their Quibb daily digest allows them to quickly catch up on the best content in their industry.

> Is your newsletter clearly solving a problem for your subscribers?

Before applying any of the techniques described here, quickly run through the above three questions to do a high-level review of your newsletter. Whether you’re sending content you’ve created (e.g., interviews, articles), announcing new products or features, curating a collection of links, or sending network updates, think about the expectations of your subscribers and try to match the frequency and content of your newsletters to meet (or hopefully exceed!) those expectations in a meaningful way.

About the Author: Sandi MacPherson (@sandimac) is the founder of Quibb, operated from Palo Alto, CA in the heart of Silicon Valley. Previously, she designed new products in ecommerce and enterprise collaboration, after graduating business school in Toronto. In another life, she worked in cleantech and at Social Venture Partners after receiving a degree in Environmental Science.

  1. Can you explain the rationale of #7? If sending them the usual is the way you are attempting to reactivate them, why wouldn’t you send it to everyone? How does not sending them something help?

    • Hi Kenneth,
      Sure – re: #7, sending only to 10% of inactives

      If someone isn’t clicking on the digest, they’ve obviously lost interest for some reason, and I don’t want to ‘harass’ them by over-sending :)

      Cycling-out inactives is a pretty common newsletter & email marketing tactic. I know there are a lot of drip email & reactivation strategies and products that people use (e.g. userfox), but I’ve found this ‘10% of 28d inactives’ rule to be simple to implement, but also in-line with member needs and expectations.

  2. The email list seems to be small (people from 2552 startups according to the QUIBB site) and invite only. I’m assuming having such a focussed group would be a key reason why the open rates are so high. Would this be correct?

    • Perhaps, Craig!
      I have found that these tactics above have helped to raise the open rate over time, irrespective of the membership composition. Also, if you’re working with a high-quality, targeted email list that people genuinely want to be subscribed to, I’m assuming that anyone could develop as focused a group as Quibb has.

    • Lauren Maffeo Apr 10, 2013 at 11:47 am

      Craig, you’ve hit the nail on the head. I applied for and was accepted to join Quibb after reading this blog post, and what keeps me actively engaged on the site (and opening their emails) is the fact that it’s a concentrated forum of like-minded peers. Several users are people I’ve interacted with through work and/or have companies in common with, so reading their insight on various articles is of genuine interest to me.

      That, as well as an easy user experience and-comprehensive activity log-have me hooked. Quibb is Quora without the clutter.

  3. Thanks for the great article….50-70% open rates is amazing…The points are very clearly stated.

  4. I am scratching my head to get a 40+ open rate. These guys are awesome to get 60+ open rate. Nice tips and got some insights on email marketing.

  5. Some very good ideas that will help us increase and retain higher open rates.

  6. I think strategy one with specific names relevant to that person is what brings the open rate up so high. This is not something that most businesses can replicate however, so I’m not sure this open rate is possible for everyone, but nice tips!

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