Your Email Marketing Strategy Doesn’t Have to Stay Down for the Count

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May 18, 2016
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

The intuitive (and sometimes scarily accurate) Google machine shows I am not alone in questioning the effectiveness of email marketing for today’s businesses. I must be among thousands who wanted to know “is email marketing dead” for that to be the first suggested search when I simply typed “is e.”

Email, as we know it, has been around for more than 20 years, which means it’s had 20+ years to grow, evolve and weave its way into our daily routines. It’s had 20+ years to develop into an indispensable form of communication for individuals and businesses alike … or 20+ years to fizzle and fade into the history books next to the Pony Express and scrunch socks.

As I reflect on my use of email, I look at the clock and see that though it’s nearing the close of business, I’m not deterred from popping into my Yahoo! Mail to see what’s new (back off—I’ve had this same email address since, like, 2006 and I also have a trendy Gmail account too, ok?). Upon reviewing my personal email, here are my observations:

  • As I write this, I have 14 emails just from today sitting in my trash folder (and if I can be honest, this feels like a pretty light load of emails, but it IS a Friday)
  • Not a single one of them is from another human (well, not from an individual I know personally, anyway); they are all business/marketing emails
  • Seven of them (or 50% for all you math majors out there) were unread/unopened before I deleted them

Just like your candidates do every single day, I actively made the choice to either read each email or delete it before opening. My rationale for reading or deleting varied from email to email, just like it does for your candidates. For some, it was the subject line. For others, it was because of the sender. Many I deemed unimportant or irrelevant because it’s Friday afternoon, or because I’ve already received too many emails from that sender in the past week or month.

The thing to call out here is that there was no single reason for deleting emails before reading. I’m sure if you polled the candidates that receive your emails, you’d find a similar array of responses if you asked them why they deleted or didn’t respond to your message. That doesn’t mean email marketing is dead; it just means many of these companies simply need to pump some new lifeblood into their email marketing strategy.

How do we do this in recruitment? By A/B testing and continually refining and questioning your email marketing strategy.

This can be a tricky pill to swallow because we’re all guilty of having egos. I have an ego. You have an ego. Small, large … they come in all sizes and with their own set of quirks, but we each have egos that often leads us to think that what we create/write/design is completely and utterly awesome. As a marketer by trade, I can tell you that we marketers are sometimes the worst when it comes to having an ego about our creations.

My advice? Come to terms with the fact that your “amazing” email might have areas for improvement. Challenge the saying: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I say, “If it ain’t broke, break it to see if you can build something even better. And if you can’t build something better this month, try again next month.”

Both to your excitement and dismay, there are dozens of variables you can test in your email campaigns. By no means is this an inclusive list, but consider challenging your use of the following elements to reinvigorate your email marketing strategy:

  • Plain text vs. HTML
  • Branding
  • Sender name (e.g. Dana vs. Dana Meyer vs. Dana at ABC Corp vs. ABC Corp Recruitment)
  • Sender email address (e.g. vs.
  • Subject line (e.g. content, tone, length, use of special characters and numbers, what gets cut off because the subject line is too long)
  • Salutation (e.g. Dear vs. Hi vs. Hello vs. Hey, use of Ms./Mrs./Mr. <last name> vs. first name)
  • Personalization
  • Tone of email
  • Layout (e.g. number of and length of paragraphs, bulleted lists, number of columns, formal email template vs. casual/personal email format)
  • Length of your message
  • Use, type and content of multimedia (e.g. links, pictures, embedded video)
  • Message content (e.g. information on benefits vs. company culture vs. corporate history vs. community giving vs. flexible schedule vs. testimonials)
  • Employer value proposition
  • Call to action
  • Frequency of emails
  • Day of the week /time of day you send

When you think about what to test first, consider what issues your emails might be having or what stat you might want to improve upon. For example:

  • The trouble with candidates opening your emails? Test the subject line or the sender name/email address, as well as the salutation and the first few lines/top of the email (in case candidates can see a preview or the beginning of the email before opening).
  • Are candidates opening your emails but not responding? Try testing the message content, calls to action, use of links (as in, are people clicking on your links and you’re sending their attention elsewhere on the internet vs. keeping their attention within the email and directing them to respond to you?), and employer value proposition.

I also recommend that you always send your email campaign to yourself first, as a test. See how it looks and opens in various email programs (Outlook, Yahoo!, Hotmail, Gmail, etc.), as well as reviewing it on your phone, computer, or other devices with a different screen size.

Other tips to ensure your email marketing strategy has a strong heartbeat:

  • Create a baseline. You will never know what is working and improving–or conversely, making little impact–if you don’t have baseline metrics for comparison.


  • Use an email marketing tool. Unfortunately, many ATSs don’t have the sophisticated features to effectively create, track and measure your email marketing campaigns. You’re likely better off using a CRM, talent community, candidate experience platform, or dedicated email marketing technology for the best results. Programs like Avature, Jibe and Ascendify are talent acquisition-specific tools that offer email marketing as part of a larger platform. Other tools like MailChimp and Constant Contact are email marketing-specific technologies. You can also check out this list of PC Magazine’s Best Email Marketing Software of 2016.


  • Only change/test one element at a time. You’ll never know what generates better or fewer results if you change more than one variable at once.


  • Track your changes and results. Simple and straightforward, but it’s incredibly important to have an easy way to show what you tested, how it affected your results, and how it compared to other campaigns.


  • The larger and more diverse your audience, the more accurate your results. Statistical methodology tells us that larger, diverse audiences = reduced margin of error and more precise outcomes; whereas smaller, narrowly-focused audiences = greater margin of error and greater chance your results aren’t reflective of the audience’s actual preferences.


  • If you try something extreme, consider testing on a small audience. You always want to proceed with caution and thorough planning when making changes to your email strategy, but if you try something really out-of-the-box, see how a smaller audience responds to your email first to reduce the chance that your upset, offend, or put off your candidates.


  • Talk to and compare notes with your colleagues about email success. Leverage the knowledge and expertise of others both in and outside your industry, as well as those who recruit for both similar and different positions, for inspiration and to generate new ideas. Ask questions about emails that generate results or flop in various social media and online groups/forums, in-person meetups, or conferences, especially if you work within a small team.


  • Ask your marketing team for support, help or guidance. Just like leveraging other Talent Acquisition colleagues, your internal marketing team can often help give you some tips, tricks, and advice on your email marketing strategy. There is a very good chance your marketing/communications department already employs an email marketing strategy to generate business and would love to share their expertise.


  • Use online data and stats about email marketing practices as a guide, not universal law. My online search for “email marketing statistics” generated 18,100,000 results. You know all of those variables I listed above? Every single one of them has been tested by geniuses in the marketing world. But they didn’t test those variables on your candidates, for your jobs, in your industry, in your target geography, did they? Use these amazing statistics as a guide; a jumping off place to start your own tests for each of your specific audiences.


  • Test on mobile. According to eMailmonday, mobile email will account for 15-70% of email opens, depending on your target audience, product, and email type. Learn how your campaigns look, open, feel, and read on mobile, as well as desktop/laptop. And remember that some email programs (personal and business) block images by default and require the users to actively opt-in to display images. This is especially prevalent on mobile devices, so pay attention to stats of campaigns with a lot of images or multimedia.


  • Don’t settle. Congratulations—you’ve created an effective email campaign! You got a 22% open rate! I’m proud! Now, what can you do to make it 25%? Or can you have a 22% open rate with a 4% click-through rate instead of 3%? Or can you reduce your unsubscribe rate to 0.3% instead of 0.7%? Don’t let your email campaigns get stale by settling for the same stats every time you send an email. Always look for something that you can change and improve.


  • It’s ok if your tests don’t generate massive results. You’re a recruiter, not an email marketer. You are doing email marketing as part of 30,395,722 things each day, amirite? You have budget constraints, time constraints, creative constraints. Little changes and seemingly minor things you learn about your audience, over time, will add up—I promise you. But you have to start testing somewhere. Sometimes you’ll get really great results and other times, they’ll flop. Treat each campaign as a lesson and an opportunity to learn more about what resonates with your audience and what produces results.
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.
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