The following is a guest post from Daria Shualy, Don Draper at daPulse.com. Learn more about daPulse and a special offer they’re extending to our readers at the bottom of this post.  

“Hey babes, I’m finally on the flight back home. Can’t wait to see you.” This email title is sure to get a 100% open rate. Unfortunately, most emails sent to users don’t enjoy such high open rates. This is especially frustrating when the email in question is the “Please confirm your registration” email. I mean, you’d think someone who just decided to join a service or subscribe to a newsletter, someone who voluntarily put in the time and effort to fill in their details, would follow up by completing registration. Well, you’d be surprised, as were we.

It all started when we finally managed to make time to look into alternatives to Amazon SES. We were using it for sending emails, with insufficient insight into our funnel. In fact, using it we couldn’t even be certain whether emails were actually being sent, let alone if they were arriving or being opened. After exploring the subject, we decided on SendGrid and only 24 hours later we were already happy with our choice. Thanks to helpful customer support, we were up and running.

Sign-up conversion problem vs. solution

Now we could start a deep investigation into our sign-up conversion. Some background: We’re dapulse.com — a high level project management tool for fast moving companies. In the past six months, we’ve been growing exponentially in our number of paying customers. But our sign-up conversion wasn’t performing the same way. Being a lean startup as we are, we make a point that whatever we put into customer acquisition — whether it’s paid marketing or content marketing — will result in high ROI (return on investment). This requires optimizing sign-up conversion, and now we finally had the time to delve into it.

Fast forward to the end of the story. Using SendGrid enabled us to pin-point the cause of our not high enough conversion rate. It was low sign-up completion rates of 60%. Furthermore, with the help of SendGrid we were able to learn exactly why this was and fix it, bringing our sign-up completion rate up to 83% and growing. Now, if you’d like to learn how this was achieved and what we’ve learned on the way, keep on reading.

Breaking down the sign-up confirmation funnel

Now that we had SendGrid in place, we integrated it with MixPanel, and started delving into the funnel. Beforehand, we didn’t have sufficient data about what was happening between sign-up and confirmation. Now that we had the data, we looked at our drop points (the stages in the process where you lose your users). But first, we broke down the funnel.

Tip: When breaking down the funnel, don’t take anything for granted.

You might think it’s pretty basic:

  • User signs up, i.e enters their email address.
  • User receives confirmation email.
  • User completes sign-up, i.e sign-up is confirmed.

But in the spirit of not taking anything for granted, we broke it down even further to the following stages of the flow:

  1. Sign-up: Entering an email address.
  2. Follow through: Understanding a confirmation email was sent.
  3. Opening: Opening the sign-up confirmation email.
  4. Click through: Understanding and clicking the sign-up confirmation email.
  5. Completing sign-up: Confirming email address.

Now that we broke it down further, and started measuring all these stages, we could see clearly where our drop points were.

Our drop points

Drop point A: Between entering the email address and receiving the confirmation email.
Drop point B: Between receiving the confirmation email and opening it.

Now we started looking at the reasons for these drop points, with all the data now accessible through SendGrid. This is what we found:

Reasons for drop point A

Reason 1:  Typos in email address, resulting in wrong addresses.
Reason 2: Emails being marked as spam.

Reasons for drop point B

Reason 1: Unclear subject lines.
Reason 2: Email delivery not fast enough.

Now with clear drop points, we moved on to fixing them.

Fixing the drop points

Fixing the typos problem: What happens when a user enters a wrong address? Well, they never get the confirmation email. Assuming they went straight to their inbox to look for it (which, isn’t always the case), and assuming they checked the spam folder and couldn’t find it there, they are most likely to return to your site. Even if they weren’t expecting it, what they should find there, loud and clear, is a resend email option.

So we went over our design and improved it in the following way:
– Made the “Please re-send email” call to action more clear, by change of copy and by adding a big email icon to it.
– Added a “re-enter your email address” field.

Fixing the spam problem: First, this is how we learned we were being categorized as spam: We used SendGrid’s webhook, (event notification app) setting it so that for any action on SendGrid we would get a ping to our server through an http request. Now we got a stream of all events from SendGrid and we wrote a code to auto-respond to these events. We also used MixPanel for the funnel, so for each event from SendGrid we checked if it’s sign-up related. If it was, we sent it to MixPanel, which gave us even more granularity into the funnel. In addition, we changed our incoming mail server, and moved that too to SendGrid, which now handled our incoming email. Then we took the following steps to avoid being marked as spam.

How to avoid getting marked as spam

  • Get a sanitized address. Get a sanitized dedicated IP address for your mail server. This is an IP address that was checked and found clean of any past abuse. If it’s dedicated to you, no one else can abuse it and get you blacklisted. SendGrid offers this service and we use it.
  • Add bounced to non-send. If an email you sent bounces, auto-add its address to a non-send list that filters all your future sendings. SendGrid offers this service as well.
  • Follow the guidelines on how to prevent being categorized as spam. SendGrid has a very helpful checklist, including how to format the emails to be top notch.

Fixing open rate problem: Confirmation titles are tricky and are even more important than you’d think. Many times, when designing, you imagine a highly motivated, totally focused user who signed up for your service. You imagine them as reaching your site with full intent to join and start using, when in truth, they might have incidentally clicked an ad or a link somewhere, and the site seemed somewhat intriguing, so they signed up. Now they might get the confirmation email right away – and still not recognize it because they didn’t really get your site’s name, or because the email’s title isn’t clear.

Fixing time lag issue: But what’s more, sometimes there can be a time lag between entering an email address and confirming sign-up. This can happen for many reasons, even as simple as a distracted user. So the point is, a user might notice your confirmation email hours or even days after it was sent. This means the title must remind them what this was all about: What your service does and what they’re expected to do next.

So now all you have to do is test different subject lines and compare results of open rates. We did this using SendGrid’s tag system (called categories). It allows you to tag outgoing emails, which you can later compare for stats according to tags, just like A/B testing. Their dashboard then enables very sophisticated comparison queries. We did this (and are still doing it) to find the best performing titles.

Extra tips — improving click through rate

Getting users to open your email, still doesn’t mean they’ll click through. Here are some click through tips we’ve implemented with great results:

  1. Use the email itself to explain Why they are getting this email, What your service does
    and What they are asked to do, i.e CTA (call to action).
  2. Add a photo of your product to the confirmation email, to effectively remind users what they signed up for and build trust.
  3. Create a simple email with a clear and single CTA. Avoid multiple links! This means removing email addresses in the email itself, because these become clickable links, which means they can distract the user from your Call to Action link.

Fixing the timing: This goes to the previous point. Sometimes, the reason people get to your confirmation email late, is that it didn’t get there fast enough. A way around this is to automatically re-send the confirmation email to anyone who hasn’t confirmed in two days, and again if they haven’t confirmed a week later. Using SendGrid to do this is very convenient.

To sum it up: How we improved registration completion by 38%

  1. Break down the sign-up confirmation funnel.
  2. Use tools to track and measure that funnel.
  3. Discover your drop points.
  4. Put yourself in the user’s place (consider: time lag, forgetfulness, drop in intent).
  5. Fix your drop points by improving flow, UX, design and content.
  6. Measure for results and tweak until they improve.

About dapulse: dapulse is a high level project management tool. It’s the best way to manage companies and teams and track the progress of both Goals and Tasks. dapulse is used by successful companies like UBER, Wix, AOLon, Fiverr, Saatchi art and hundreds of others. Connect with them on Twitter @dapulselabs.

*dapulse is offering 30% off of their pricing plans with the promo code: ThankYouSendGrid Visit their site to take advantage of the offer