Is anyone actually reading your practice newsletter? Probably not. Here’s how you can increase engagement with your newsletter, and get patients to book. By Daniel Warren
The results of your last email newsletter blast are in. And frankly, they’re a bit disappointing.
You thought you had a fantastic promotion. A voucher for tooth whitening, offering 20 per cent off if people clicked on that link to your contact page. But 80 per cent of the people who were sent the email didn’t even open it. And of those left, only about 3.5 per cent clicked on the link.
“You probably had even fewer readers than that,” says Rob Johnson, director of Engage Content. “Look carefully at the statistics from your email provider—some people would have clicked on it twice. And Facebook campaigns can often be worse—you might only get a single click on one of them.”
Furthermore, he explains, many ad agencies who do email campaigns and pay-per-click advertising will tell you these numbers aren’t unusual, and that you should be happy. But you shouldn’t be.
Johnson bases his comments on a regression analysis he did of data from 2.7 million email newsletters sent from nearly 1000 campaigns. He has found that when you control for the type of content that is in the newsletter, a very different picture emerges of what entices readers to click and read.
What’s a normal response?
When your email provider—like MailChimp or Constant Contact—delivers a report after sending out a newsletter, it provides two important statistics. One is the open rate—the number or percentage of people who received the email and opened it. The second is a click-to-open rate—the number of people who actually clicked on a link in the email.
The first number, the open rate, is often a little misleading, says Johnson. “The way it’s measured means you can’t tell a lot about what people are doing when they open your newsletter,” he explains. “Some email programs open messages automatically. Sometimes people open them accidentally.”
The click rate is more important, he says. If someone clicks on a link, they are actually doing something, or going somewhere, hopefully to your website.
For example, a normal open rate for a dental newsletter might be around the 20 per cent mark. A normal click-to-open rate might be around four per cent. Those statistics assume that any click is equal to any other.
“A lot of email providers publish stats on open rates and click rates,” Johnson says. “But they don’t tell you exactly what people are clicking on.”
“When I compared how many clicks each type of content received, the informational stories beat the others by a huge margin. Often it attracted 10 times as many clicks as anything else.”
Rob Johnson, director, Engage Content.
But there are a lot of things people can click on in a newsletter. For example, a percentage of those people clicking might actually be hitting the unsubscribe button.
What engages readers?
In Johnson’s regression analysis, the variables he focused on were the type of content. He categorised the content of email newsletters in one of four ways:
- Informational content—articles, or reports that were primarily concerned with supplying information;
- Transactional content—vouchers or sales, or anything imploring a reader to buy something or sign up for something;
- Navigational content—which gave readers directions to a particular place or site; and
- Standardised content—unsubscribe buttons, links to web-based versions of the email, logos, and similar items.
“Of course, in the real world, content isn’t always neatly divided into categories,” he adds. “Each individual bit of content in each newsletter existed on a spectrum. So we searched all the content for certain keywords that identified its intention. For transactional content, for example, you’d often see phrases like ‘buy now’ or ‘great deal’ or ‘free’. For standardised content, we looked for words like ‘unsubscribe’ or ‘web-based version’. ”
By using keywords to infer intent, he says, you reflect the way a reader reads—you may not always know what an author intends with a piece of writing, but certain words are always intended to elicit a particular reaction. It’s rare, for example, to find the words ‘buy now’ or ‘special deal’ in an essay on the efficacy of preventative dentistry.”
“When I compared how many clicks each type of content received, the informational stories beat the others by a huge margin,” says Johnson. “Often it attracted 10 times as many clicks as anything else.”
The reason for low engagement
The reason a newsletter only gets a three per cent click rate is because you are sending out transactional information, Johnson says. You are offering deals to get people to spend money. But by doing that, you are alienating 97 per cent of your audience.
“You can increase that click through rate up to about 20 per cent just by giving your patients information about things that will help them,” he adds. “Not products that will help them. Rather than offering a tooth whitening voucher, why not write an article about how tooth whitening works? Instead of offering free X-rays (which are probably covered by insurance anyway), why not explain why people snore? Or what TMJ is?”
The most successful newsletter, Johnson says, offer a mix of several different types of content, with the majority being informational.
“It makes sense,” he says. “A newsletter with one or two items will give readers more chances to interact. Sending out a single offer for a voucher really limits your readers choices.
“Patients are curious and complex. You may think they book an appointment with you because they have a problem (like a toothache or a need for cosmetic treatment). But what seems logical to you may not be as obvious to someone who hasn’t trained as a dentist.”
The best way you can help people when they are considering their oral health is by giving them information, Johnson concludes. The more and better information you give them, the more they trust you. The more they trust you, the more logical it will seem to them to book an appointment when they finally decide to do something about their oral health.
Because you’ll never build a relationship with people if they’re ignoring you.