Sophia Skinbjerg
Sophia Skinbjerg 14 April 2016

Good and Bad Habits of Email Subscribers; A Peek into User Behavior

User behavior is what drives email marketing campaigns. Or at least, it should be. But what user behavior is considered 'good' and what's 'bad'? How do we know what behaviors we should be actively encouraging and what actions we should be doing everything in our power to discourage? We took a look at the latest industry statistics and combined it with our own experience to help answer those questions for you.

Firstly, what exactly is user behavior?

User behavior refers to more than just immediate actions that are measured within a mailing and shown on your dashboard analytics e.g. open rates, bounces, clicks, conversions and unsubscribes. User behavior is much deeper than that. Looking at user behavior actually means taking a look at the entire thought process that allows people to make decisions about what they want, need or buy and how they act towards a product service or company.


Source: Ungapped (formerly MailDirect)

Specific to email marketing, user behavior includes such influencers as time, place, device, and any other activity your user is simultaneously doing when they open your mailing. So when we talk about user behavior in relation to our email subscribers, it’s really important to look at the whole picture rather than what’s immediately in front of you (ie your dashboard analytics) and try to understand the larger impact individual behaviors have on your business. And yes I know it makes it all a little bit harder but it also makes good results much more valuable.

These influencers ‘outside’ of our control are changing all the time so it’s important that we as marketers can foresee possible changes and adapt our mailing accordingly.

What’s good user behavior?

When marketers are talking about user or consumer behavior, much of the focus is placed on what the marketer wants the user to do. That’s usually higher click-through rates, more signups to a newsletter, more returns to abandoned baskets or increased purchases.

But this is pretty one-dimensional. Why? Well it really doesn’t acknowledge the needs of the user and what they need. We know that successful email marketing means readily recognizing and providing solutions that are based on your users’ needs instead of just telling them the things you want to tell them.

So, good user behavior should be the intersection of what the user wants and what we as marketers would like them to do. Let’s take a hypothetical example:

A marketing manager from a medium to large company has just signed up for a demo account with Ungapped and she is looking for some resources that help her and her staff to use the tool most effectively. We have a bunch of great resources that our new user can use – we just need to lead her to our blog. We’ll send her a weekly roundup of the most relevant blog topics in the aim that she’ll open, read and click through to the post each week. So, the good user behavior here is the action required that satisfies both the needs of our new demo user and our goal at Ungapped (which is click-throughs, number of new page sessions and longer reading times on our blog posts).

What’s 'bad' user behavior?

It’s really crucial that when ‘bad’ user behavior occurs we don’t place the blame on the user. Ultimately, we as email marketers must take the responsibility implement a solution that aims to discourage such actions.

Therefore, user behavior that we want to discourage is something that is harming both the customer experience and our marketing goals. Here’s an example:

One user has been subscribed to all mailing categories for 30 days but soon realizes that they no longer want to receive all the mailings. So naturally, the user navigates to the unsubscribe option in one of their mailings. Like many businesses, this user’s mailing included a one click unsubscribe option which once clicked, takes the user off all mailing lists. This wasn’t actually the intention of the user - they only wanted to unsubscribe from one category, not all of them.

In this example, choosing to unsubscribe wasn’t the harmful action– it was that the user wasn’t presented with a preferences page that allowed them to select or deselect which mailings they would like to unsubscribe from. It was not the user’s fault that they were not directed to a mailings management page – it is something that should have been in place before they ever clicked unsubscribe.

User behaviors to encourage:

1. Accessing mailings across all devices

You’ve heard it a million times before but it still needs to be said; your mailings must be responsive across desktop, laptop, mobile and tablet devices.


Responsive design should be a priority. Image: Ungapped

This of course creates huge flexibility for your subscribers since they can readily access your mailings from wherever they are, at any time. In fact, 62% say their desktop computer is the device they use most often to redeem digital promotions but 59% of respondents say they would consider allowing retailers to know where they are in-store (via handheld devices) in exchange for promotional offers. With this increased flexibility comes the opportunity to engage with subscribers at times outside of the regular 9-5pm and from devices other than the work desktop. But be warned, with this great power comes great responsibility – you must still remain human to your subscribers and refrain from spamming them with irrelevant and thoughtless content.

To know what devices your subscribers are using, check your analytics or insights straight from your email platform dashboard. If this information isn’t available to you it might be time to consider changing platforms to better understand your users’ behavior.

2. International signups and purchasing

Much to the distain of traditional bricks and mortar retailers, international online shopping has become a behemoth industry. In the US alone, online shopping is expected to hit over $370 billion come 2017. Satisfaction is generally pretty high too with around 83% of us happy with the service we receive.

The consequences this has for your email marketing means that location is no longer an issue. Provided you’re communicating in a common language, you can very easily obtain international email signups and new customers. For growing businesses, you can appreciate how powerful this can be for rapid growth.

In your own dashboard, take the time to segment your contacts based on their user language so that you can send them mailings in their preferred language. If you have a website with multiple languages, be sure to have email signup forms that automatically filter new contacts based on language.

3. Signups for promotions and offers

Around 62% of users actively and regularly seek out and signup for digitally delivered promotions and special offers.

But in order to take advantage of this number and encourage new subscriptions you need to make sure that your current signup page or form actually advertises that users will receive promotions and special offers should they subscribe. If you don’t state or describe the benefits of subscribing (however brief), a new visitor really won’t be too inclined to enter their email address.

4. Using promotional material from emails

Of those users that do receive promotions and special offers, 73% take that promotional material and use it elsewhere. This is definitely behavior we want to encourage.

Whether it be a discount code for online shopping, an image-sharing competition or a hashtag to use on their own social posts, encouraging users to use promotional material from emails can be an effective way to hit your broader marketing goals and to meets the needs of users.

Need some design inspiration on how to include promotions and offers in your mailings? Check out our Pinterest boards > >

6. Using social media for customer service and feedback

Though phone and email are still preferred channels for contacting a business, users are increasingly turning to social media to voice their dissatisfaction with products, services and brands. For businesses this can be a scary concept – nobody wants an angry mob shouting complaints in a very public environment.

But it’s not all bad. Having users and subscribers share feedback on social media can actually enhance their customer experience provided you meet and exceed their response expectations.

I experienced this the other day with social scheduling app Buffer. I was scheduling some of our Ungapped Twitter content and wanted to share a GIF that I think was really funny and was in sync with one of our blog posts. However, I noticed that I was unable to post the GIF and the blog link in a single tweet from Buffer and I found that really frustrating.

So I bypassed the customer service email right away and tweeted to them. Surprisingly and quite brilliantly I had a response within the hour, it may have even been within 30 minutes. The responding tweet was empathetic, included a link to a helpful article and was signed with a team member’s name. But it didn’t stop there. The article wasn’t quite straight forward as I had hoped since I was using a different browser than the writer. I continued to tweet my troubles and within minutes I was given a helpful and understanding tweet from a Buffer. You can see the thread below.


Within 10 minutes the issue was resolved and I was able to tweet both my GIF and blog link via Buffer. Had I had gone through Buffer’s customer service email, I may have had to wait a lot longer. Using social media to give my feedback was beneficial for both me as their user and for their marketing – this whole conversation is now a public display of their great service (and app). Read the tweets for yourself > >

If you have social profiles in use for your business, make sure you have a process in place that allows customer service team members to respond to posts and tweets in a timely and helpful manner. If you don’t have this process in place, start making one!

User behaviors to discourage:

1. Not in contacts’ address book

In order to give your mailing the best chance of being opened by your readers, you need to make sure that your mailing actually reaches their inbox and not junk or spam folders.
There’s a lot that you can do in each individual mailing to better your deliverability chances like better subject lines and using a genuine sender address but little is more effective than getting your user to add you to their own contacts or address book. By having them add you as a contact, email readers are less likely to filter your mailings to an unread folder.

To get more of your new subscribers to add you to their address books, include a reminder throughout the onboarding or welcome process. For example “Don’t forget to add us to your contacts so you never miss a beat”.

For current subscribers, try including a similar reminder in your next transactional mailing or in the header of your other mailing campaigns.

2. Accidental unsubscribes

I touched on this briefly further up in the post but it’s valuable to repeat nonetheless because accidental unsubscribes is something you should be actively discouraging, always.

When your users choose to unsubscribe or alter their mailing preferences, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. The harm comes when the user isn’t given a choice at all and they are removed from all lists without asking them.

Great news is that this is fixed relatively easily and quickly by implementing a preferences or subscriptions management page that users can easily navigate to within each mailing. Doing so will allow your contact list to be of higher quality and users that are happier that they can manage their own preferences.

3. Rude social media etiquette

As more and more users turn to the social channels to voice their complaints to businesses, we must have processes in place that allow for a quick and helpful solution.

Most users will expect a response from a brand within a day and some users expect a reply within the hour. Doing so can result in some great marketing and PR for your business as was my experience with Buffer. But not meeting this expectation can leave you open to receiving rude social media posts or comments.

To discourage rude etiquette, communication about your customer service capabilities via social media need to be crystal clear. Make sure you include links to customer service handles and profiles pages in all your mailings so that users can easily and quickly navigate to the correct page. There's nothing more annoying than having to jump between page after page and profile after profile in order to find the right place to complain to give feedback - it only adds fuel to the fire.

On social profiles or account descriptions, make sure you state how long it will take for a team member to get back to users. Where possible, include a name in responding tweets and posts so that users know that they are communicating with a real person. And of course, if you do happen to receive a rude comment, post or tweet, withhold the urge to be rude back - businesses that don't treat users with respect tends to backfire and end in a viral (bad) news storm.

4. Impatience for loading webpages

Recent data shows that if a webpage doesn't load within 3 seconds, a user will simply bounce from the page or redirect to a new search option. Three seconds is really not a lot of time - it probably took you longer to read this paragraph's first sentence. Can you confidently say that each and every one of your website's pages load within 3 seconds across all devices? Yes? No? If no, don't freak out right away. There's things you can do to improve page-load time fairly easily, you just need to know what's causing the lag.

Longer loading time on webpages is most often caused by heavy or large graphics, images, photos and video content. Now, we all know that content tends to get higher engagement when these kinds of visual material are frequently used so how on earth do we find the right balance between having fast-loading pages with lots of nice visual material? Well there are a number of strategies. You can compress and scale your images, utilize browser caching or compress your html, CSS and javascript. There is a fantastic article from Web Design Depot that outlines really simple fixes to bring your page-load score closer to 100 and I highly suggest you take the time to read it.

In addition to making these adjustments, I recommend using a loading icon or inserting some loading text for those pages that still remain heavy or simply as a backup should a user be on a slow internet connection or older device. You don't need anything too detailed, something brief like "Sorry this is taking so long! We should be done loading soon" or simply "Loading, please wait a second". This way you user will at least know why your page isn't showing and that it will respond soon.

5. Bouncing immediately after clicking links

When we see high click-through statistics on our email dashboards and platforms but fail to see either an increase in conversions, session times or page views through our website analytics, we can assume that one of four things has happened;

1. The linked content was not fairly represented by the anchored text or image (including directing to the wrong URL)


2. The linked content was simply not interesting enough to continue reading


3. The linked content could not be viewed on the user's device


4. The linked content took way too long to load

Each of these scenarios are definitely less than ideal and we of course want to discourage bounces that are a direct result of these outcomes. Thankfully, three of the four are quite easily fixed; number four was just covered in the previous point! The first outcome is easily managed too - you just need to endeavor to create anchor text that's not misleading or 'click bait' and always double-check that you link to the right URL.

I covered responsive design in a number of other posts like our design tips for email newsletters part one and part two. Read them here > >

Scenario number two is a little harder to get right but is outside the realm of this post - check out our post '6 reasons to revisit your email strategy over the summer' to give you some more direction on creating great content for your users.

Want to use these user behavior tips in your next mailing?

Head on over to the original post and download our free user behavior checklist.

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