Email Retargeting and When You Should Use It

The inbox is a busy place. Some people store their to-do lists there, deleting emails as they take care of the requests. Others are brimming with offers and discounts from services they don’t always open. The competition to be seen there is stiff. One way to increase your sales and actions from an email is to retarget people who do not open a message. The most frequent question I get from authors is, when should I use email retargeting?

There are a number of precursors we should address before we dive into that answer because the effectiveness of email retargeting depends on how you are currently using your email list.


First Things First
  1. Retargeting emails work well if your readers already feel they are getting value from your regular emails. If you’re familiar with my 80-20 Content Rule, you’ll know what I’m talking about. It’s a formula that states, if 80% of the content you give to readers is valuable, then you earn the right to sell them your products 20% of the time.

There are times when you can push this equation. When you launch a new book, readers expect you will be telling them about it more often for a certain period of time. They overlook the frequency because they know it is temporary and also because they like you—and your books.

  1. Retargeting emails should show up within 48-72 hours of the original email. I have had the best open rates with retarget emails in both fiction and nonfiction when they are sent 48 hours after the original email. Others have told me 24 hours works best for them, but I always figure some people can’t dig through their entire inbox in 24 hours and I don’t want to seem too assertive. 
  1. Restrict your email retargeting testing to sales emails only. Your success with retargeting emails may vary from mine so you want to pay careful attention to your open rates, click- through rates, and complaint rates. I always put an unsubscribe link at the top of the page with a disclaimer that people can unsubscribe at any time– “I’ll be sorry to see them go, but I do understand” kind of thing. I’ve found that cuts down on the amount of complaints.

Again, don’t worry about unsubscribes. The trade-off in sales should be much higher than your unsubscribe rates in the long run. Remember, some readers have missed your original email. Don’t feel guilty about reminding them. But do restrict this type of email to book sales emails until you do enough testing to find the sweet spot. Don’t use retargeting emails for your straight newsletters. They are part of your 80% value content. Use retargeting when your readers know you will be reminding them of something special like a new book release.

How To Retarget a Book Launch Email
  1. Segment your unopened messages 24-48 hours after you send the first email. Most email providers will do this in a simple step.
  2. Plan your duration. How soon after your first message will you send your retarget email? I recommend waiting 48 hours as a goal—no sooner than 36 and no later than 84 hours.
  3. Change up the subject line and copy of the original email. A good subject line might be, “Did you miss my last email?” or something similar. Don’t apologize for sending another email. You’re not doing anything wrong. They don’t have to open it. Gently remind them that you sent an email with some exciting news (book launch, book discount): “I just wanted to check in and make sure you didn’t miss my last email.” You want to make sure they got in on the deal. Make it short—don’t go on and on. Remember to include text with an unsubscribe link. End up by thanking them for taking the time to read. Give them only one link (or a series of bookstore links) and if you want to send an image, use only one.
  4. Schedule and send to your segment of people who did not open the first email.
  5. Expect unsubscribes or complaints the first couple times you send a retargeting email. I never think unsubscribes are a bad thing. All our email lists have a large number of people that have opted in to a free gift somewhere along the way and they no longer wish to hear from us. Don’t worry about that. Besides, you don’t want to pay for people who don’t want to hear from you.

If you’ve never tried retargeting emails for a book launch, I encourage you to give them a try. I’ve seen much larger click through rates on retargeting emails than on the original ones—sometimes three times the average. The open rates are a little lower, but that is to be expected. However, the extra click-throughs definitely make that email worth sending. Keep an eye on your open rates and click through rates (CTR) so you can get an idea when the best time to send a retargeting email is for your audience.

Are you using email retargeting? How is it working for you? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

If you haven’t got an email marketing strategy set up yet, enroll in my free online class that will walk you through the basics to get going. Click here for more info.