Blog Post

What Marketers Can Learn from Consumer Email Behavior


Email has and continues to play a significant role both in business and in our daily lives! There was a recent study on consumer email behavior, conducted by Yahoo Labs and the University of Southern California Information Sciences Institute, revealing very fascinating data that can help marketers, our SEO reseller community and others learn how consumer email behavior has transformed over the years. Watch this Daily Brown Bag to learn how consumer email behavior (email reply length, email reply speed, etc.) differs based upon the type of device that the consumer utilizes (i.e. mobile phones, tablets and desktops). You'll also learn about inbox overload, and discover some great email strategies and tips to help increase your conversions, business and more.

Also available on YouTube.

TRANSCRIPTION:

Hello, and welcome to the Daily Brown Bag. Today we’re going to be talking about consumer email behavior. I’m Chad Hill, and I’m joined by Adam Stetzer.

Good morning, Chad. Welcome to the Brown Bag. We talk a lot about email marketing with our SEO reseller community. I know everyone out there, pushing SEO, they think email is sort of old hat. But, Chad, we’ve talked about it so many times in our Brown Bags: Email is still a very dominant software platform and tool in our lives. We’re covering some more stats today, just to keep the focus on it, for folks in our white label community to reconsider email marketing as a part of your digital marketing platform.

Study on consumer email behavior:

Today, the news is from Yahoo Labs and a USC joint study on consumer email behavior. This is not specifically for email marketers, but I think there is a lot we can learn here. Specifically, Yahoo Labs and the University of Southern California Information Sciences Institute released its “Evolution of Conversations in the Age of Email Overload.” It came out this month.

I think, Chad, that we can both appreciate the notion of email overload. They looked at 16 billion email exchanges, which is a very large sample size -- over 2 million people -- across several different months. Now, these are not specifically emails for marketing and consumer behavior. These are just emails between people, but the idea is to study how people communicate, how they handle emails, and see if the marketers that we work with everyday in our reseller community can take some cues from what the evolving behaviors are for this dominant software platform that is in a lot of aspects of our lives.

Email Stats: Message Length & Timing

So here’s some of what we see, Chad, and then I’ll ask you to help us come up with some takeaways:

  • First of all, the length of the email -- the longer the message is in email, the longer it will take someone to reply. And they’ll be even slower if there are attachments. That’s pretty interesting.

  • As for timing of email -- we’ve talked about this a lot in the marketing context in terms of when people respond. It should be no surprise that they’re much more active on email during the day, and they reply much faster on weekdays and during workdays. Replies will be shorter on weekends and much shorter later in the day.

Mobile, Tablet & Desktop Email Stats

Mobile behavior is something that’s probably interesting to a lot of folks as more and more shifts to mobile in the search world. Replies to email are the fastest from a mobile phone -- an average of 28 minutes. The next fastest reply time you’ll see is on a tablet, which is 57 minutes, Chad, and then the slower response time (but not by much) is a desktop, which averages at 62 minutes. And I think those stats are pretty monumental as well. It shows how the expectations of response times have evolved based on what standards of behavior are -- anywhere from a half hour to an hour for response time in email. I think, maybe 10 years ago, it was common for a day or two for an email response.

Replies that are sent from a mobile device are going to be shorter, and this is pretty much expected. On a phone, there are going to be quite a few less words than on a tablet, which would be longer, and longer yet on a desktop, which would be 60 words on average from a desktop.

What can we take away from all of this email overload that we’re seeing and how people are interacting with email today?

Yeah, Adam, and I had a couple of interesting stats on this idea of inbox overload:

  • Basically, one of the things that the study talked about is that people are generally more active on email as their inboxes grow, so that’s interesting. Their reply time often does decrease, but the length of replies decrease as well, so they kind of get in the rhythm. Maybe, as you said, Adam, a couple of years ago, people thought an email almost had to be kind of like a memo that we would send years and years ago. Now, one or two sentence responses are acceptable in a business context.

  • The more email people receive, the fewer they respond to. That’s another interesting one.

  • It seems that teens are the best at handling the load. That’s no surprise. You know, they’re video gaming and doing different things very quick.

  • Email overload is typically worst for an older age group, just because they don’t have the same coping strategies as maybe the teens have. So it’s just kind of all a little overwhelming.

But, as you said, what are some of the interesting things that marketers can take away from this data?


1. The first one, of course, is to know your audience.

That means understanding what your audience is interested in, because you are having to cut through an awful lot of clutter. Some emails from some very important people -- sometimes emails from a lot of other promotional competitors -- you need to be able to cut through that clutter with your message, which means understanding what time of day you should be sending email. Are you the type of thing that is more of a weekend event? Are you a shopping-related website with people looking at things over the weekend? Are you more of a transactional thing? “Come in, and sign up for a bank account,” which happens during the week. Really understanding your audience is important.

2. I think you do what to keep it short and simple.

No one has time to wade through and get to your point. Some of the older approaches to making sure that you have long-form content that’s really been thought through… maybe it’s actually okay in many cases to use bullets because people just have so much information to sort through. They need you to summarize it for them.

3. Of course, mobile-friendly is huge.

There are still so many email templates and so many websites for that matter that are not mobile-friendly and we are spending just an inordinate amount of time with our mobile devices, so making sure that your communications work there is important.

4. Pay attention to the analytics.

5. I think the last one here is just respecting someone’s inbox.

Again, the idea of being able to send something to somebody that has, as you said, a 20 to 60 minute response expectation -- you want to make sure, especially if you’re on the more promotional side of things, your company is sending emails to subscribers -- that you really respect that. Because you are typically only one click away from an unsubscription, so make sure you respect that time.

Tips & Takeaways: Consumer Email Behavior, Email Marketing & SEO

Again, we talk with our SEO reseller community every day about rankings and they’re selling search engine optimization and they’re trying to bring more traffic to their websites, but we like to cover email because it is -- as this study and many others that we’ve covered in the Brown Bag said here, Chad -- a dominant software platform in all of our lives. We talk a lot about the Internet and search and how that’s evolved and the evolution to mobile… yet one of the biggest things we see people doing on their mobile devices is checking email, which is not a new technology.

Hopefully, these stats are helpful for folks in our community to realize that email marketing is still a very important component of the digital marketing arsenal and will help increase conversion, even if you do get those rankings up to position one, page one, a great email nurture will help bring more customers in.

We thank you for joining us today for our Brown Bag. We’d love it if you hit “Subscribe” so we can see you back here tomorrow.