Improving Open Rate of Your Communication: 5 Tips From Top Publisher

With great excitement we bring you the first-ever guest post at AM Navigator’s blog. We loved Graham Jenner‘s approach, and happily accepted his contribution. Should you want to contribute to this blog as well, email us.

I read with interest Geno’s recent post about a drop in open rates on email newsletters. It flagged an interest as I had been talking to an affiliate manager only the week before about improving communication. I would agree with the findings as I prefer to have information over email. It is easier to find and refer back to than IM’s or phone calls and allows less chance for misunderstanding. I think that if email is the method you are using though there are 5 things you can do to make them relevant, interesting and increase the likelihood they are read.

1.       Find out who is best to contact for different areas

One of the keys to successful marketing is to make sure that you are communicating with the correct contacts.  My role involves meeting and creating strategic plans with our key partners with whom I work closely. Working for one of the largest publishers in the UK I am often added to the communication lists of brands I have not met or don’t directly work with.

I then receive generic emails with promotions to update on site. We have a team dedicated to updating the site that these emails would be relevant to but they are often not included on the list.  So my first piece of advice would be to find out the best contact for your emails and make them aware you are going to send them weekly/monthly. I am sure that your open rate would increase dramatically.

2.       Segment your database

Geno made this point in his post. Different affiliates will have different needs. A content affiliate might want details on your recent rebranding or latest competition as it helps them to create interesting and factually accurate content. A voucher code might want links and terms and condition for the latest codes. Making sure your affiliates are getting what they want from a newsletter is important and leads me to my next point.

3.       Ask for feedback

If your open rate has gone down speak to your affiliates. What do they want to see in your newsletter? What do they find useful? Do they have an example of one they find useful? Getting feedback from affiliates is key to getting the most from your programme. Opening the dialogue for feedback and acting on it will also make people more likely to be open to provide it.

4.       Personalise your emails

It’s not always possible to send personalised emails due to time constraints but where possible you should try to do this. Sending a personal email is more likely to get a response and open the dialogue. For me, Affiliate Marketing is all about relationships. You should be trying to speak to your affiliates as much as you can as their feedback can often help to take your programme to new levels.  Maybe you could even drop some of your affiliates a quick message to check they got your email and let know if there is anything they need. Why not try emailing 10 different affiliates personally each month to see what response you get. You will often be surprised. Make sure you get peoples name right though. My colleague James often gets ‘Dear John/Jake/Jerry’ emails which undo the good intentions of the personal email and make him feel devalued!

5.       Avoid over emailing

Sending affiliate newsletters is like any other emailing marketing. If you email too much you are likely to see people unsubscribe or stop opening them. Make a plan for when you are going to email whether this is once a month or once a week. Then stick to it. Before you send an email think to yourself, “would I need to know this?”. If you email too regularly content that’s not relevant or interesting you are likely to see your open rates fall.


I think in summary it’s clear that to improve your open rates you need to be open to communicating with your affiliates. Getting feedback from publishers will allow you to understand what they want and engage with them more. This increased engagement should lead to more people opening your emails. You can then tailor your newsletters to suit different segments or publisher types and make them more relevant.

7 thoughts on “Improving Open Rate of Your Communication: 5 Tips From Top Publisher”

  1. While new to the affiliate market space, I’ve been sending out customer newsletters to 10K+ customers worldwide for a natural and organics product company. In addition to the great tips above Graham, let me add the following.
    1. Beware of seasonal and/or cultural differences between your target audience. A “4th of July Special” to a Canadian affiliate means little, as does a Sizzling Summer Spectacular” to an Australian affiliate in July – which is their winter.
    2. Also understand that a HTML newsletter read in the preview mode of an email client may not show as an open. Even if you follow these tips – and others sure to be included in this post – the open-rate needle may not move much for you. Don’t be discouraged by this. Keep doing the right things and you’ll reap the just rewards in time.

  2. Thanks for your comments Ron. I think your first point is good and related to making sure you personalise your emails and understand your audience.

    I think like you say it’s about doing it right to benefit long term. Speaking with people more and improving the relevance of communications should reap benefits if you keep doing it.

    HTML emails is another interesting angle to the topic. Is it better to have a newsletter with product images that looks impressive? Or would your affiliates prefer a plain email with personalised deeplinks to products? Hopefully you can get a good balance of an email that looks great but is functional.

  3. Congrats to Graham, your first-ever guest, Geno. As a daily reader of your blog, I was intrigued by your announcement to include guest posts. Looks like your off to a great start!

    Your post about a drop in open rates on e-mail newsletters caught my attention as well. We’ve been discussing this trend the past few months, trying to identify reasons why and develop strategies for improving it. Along with the AffStat findings I’ve also found that the majority of affiliates I reach out to prefer e-mail over phone, chat or other forms of communication.

    Personal e-mails to affiliates get a good open and response rate but there aren’t enough hours in a week to personally e-mail thousands of affiliates. Newsletters are the next logical step yet it’s challenging to develop and expand upon topics “just enough but not too much” that speak to all types of affiliates. Affiliates of any program invest all different amounts of time into that particular program. Micro-categorizing the affiliate base is an excellent suggestion. Many affiliate program managers categorize by “level” (i.e., super affiliate, newcomer, etc.) but drilling down, categorizing further and sending category-specific newsletters could prove to be fruitful not only in improving open rates but all communication among your affiliates.

    I’d like to add how important the subject line is. I conducted a study of subject lines we used in our affiliate newsletters over a 6 month period to possibly identify a cause and effect indicator. Interestingly, newsletters with the words “new”, “launch”, “win”, “special” all had significantly higher open rates. Of course you can’t start every newsletter using those (and other power words) and it’s not the only contributor to open rates, but the subject line is important. Using a headline analyzer and some intuition along with spending a little extra time on getting it right can help get that newsletter opened by more affiliates too.

    Thanks for the helpful insights, Geno and Graham!

    1. Thank you for the great comment, Erin. Yes, my experience with subject lines has been very similar — to a point of me going away from the traditional [Merchant Name] + [Month, Year] + “Newsletter” format to subjects that would include the month, but not necessarily “newsletter” or even merchant’s name (especially, if it is obvious from the “Sender” field where the email came from) when the space could be used by the more catchy/effective words that grab their attention increasing the open rate(s).

  4. Thanks for reading Erin and for the detailed post. Good to see this has got people thinking!

    Great idea about the subject line I think the more interesting you can make that the better.

    I agree about the time constraints of writing a personal email to all affiliates. I think the suggestion of picking a few each month would be a good compromise. Opening the communication channel with a personal email can make them more likely to open your weekly newsletters to the programme. Even if it just a quick introduction and checking they are the correct person to receive this. I would be more inclined to open the email as you have made the effort to get in touch. Also I would say that although this could be time consuming it is probably worth it if you get more affiliates pushing your product.

    As a counter argument and to create a debate; would you say it is better to maybe once a month not send a weekly newsletter but just email 20 affiliates personally with offers that suit them? You may find that you get a better response to this then you would emailing 2000 affiliates with generic offers. I would love to hear your thoughts.

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