5 Pervasive Myths about Email Marketing

For years now, marketers have been asking whether email marketing is effective–here’s one example from this past year and another from several internet eons ago (2009). With 205 billion emails sent and received last year and an estimated 91% of consumers checking email at least once a day on their smartphones, I think we can safely lay the “email marketing is dead” myth to rest. However, there are still plenty of other email marketing myths floating around—and if you believe them, you could be losing out on opportunities to increase your ROI.

Here are five myths that could be getting in the way of successful email marketing, along with some tips to help you move past them.

Myth #1: Open rate and click-through rate are the most important metrics to track.

Open rate and click-through rate (CTR) are essential metrics to track, but they won’t tell the whole story of your email marketing campaign. Open rate may be an indication of whether the subject line and sender name compelled someone to open the email, and CTR can help you determine how much engagement you got with any given email, but that doesn’t tell you whether an email campaign led to a recipient completing a desired action.

To determine how successful your email marketing has been in driving recipient action, you’ll need to look at the percentage of recipients who clicked an email link and completed a specified action, such as making a purchase or filling out a form. Divide the number of email recipients who completed this action by the total number of emails delivered, and you’ll have your conversion rate.

Other valuable metrics to measure include email list growth rate, email share rate (i.e. the number of people who clicked a social media button within the email to share it on their networks), and overall ROI.

Myth #2: Recipients prefer image-heavy emails.

Multimedia Laptop

You might think that splashy, image-intensive emails will get the most engagement. In fact, that’s what most email recipients think too—in Hubspot surveys from both 2011 and 2014, almost two thirds of respondents said they prefer image-heavy emails. However, when Hubspot looked at their own data set for emails with between zero and fifteen images, they found that the click-through rate actually dropped as the number of images increased. This could be due to the fact that not all recipients could view images on the device they were using to open their email, or because too many images distracted from the email’s call-to-action.

This doesn’t mean that you have to banish images from all email marketing campaigns. What you should do is A/B test emails with different numbers of images, or different image heights and widths, to see what the recipients on your mailing list respond to best.

When you do include images, make sure they’re optimized to be viewed on all device types, from small smartphone screens to large desktops. You should also make sure that your key message is at the top of the email so it’s visible immediately when someone opens an email on their phone.

Myth #3: Campaigns sent out to large lists are most effective.

Sure, growing your email list is a worthy ambition. After all, the more people you have on your list, the more people will receive your marketing messages. But that doesn’t mean you should abuse your list by regularly sending out mass email blasts. Impersonal emails get less engagement than personalized emails, and a message that’s irrelevant to a recipient could lead that person to unsubscribe or mark your email as spam. To avoid this, plan email campaigns around specific list segments, and use a personalized recipient name when that information is available.

You may also benefit from sending emails that are triggered by a specific action, such as a website visitor downloading an eBook or making a purchase. In this email, you might thank the site visitor for their download or purchase, and then recommend other content or products that they may be interested in. Over 75% of email marketing revenue comes from this type of triggered campaign, and transactional emails have an average of eight times more clicks than bulk mailings.

Myth #4: It’s best to send commercial emails early in the week.

Calendar and Pen

According to Hubspot, emails sent on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays have the highest open rates. However, several studies have found higher click-through rates on Saturday and Sunday. This is likely because fewer marketing messages are sent on the weekend, so even though there are fewer total clicks, the percentage of clicks is higher. It’s also possible that because there are fewer messages in recipients’ email inboxes over the weekend, they are more likely to engage with the messages they receive.

So should you send your messages earlier in the week or on the weekend? Unfortunately, there’s no clear best day of the week to send—it’s going to depend on your industry and audience. Try testing different days to determine when you get the best engagement.

Myth #5: Email marketing isn’t as effective as search or social media marketing.

Email marketing is inexpensive to implement and drives more conversions than any other digital marketing channel, including search and social. And because of the relatively limited visibility of organic social posts, marketing messages are five times more likely to be seen through email than Facebook, and emails are six times more likely than tweets to get a click-through. If you’re in ecommerce, emails can also increase your bottom line. An estimated 4.24% of people who get to your site through an email message buy something, as opposed to 2.49% who get to your site from search engines and 0.59% from social media. The next time someone tries to make the case that email marketing is outdated or ineffective, point them towards those statistics.

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What is Google’s Semantic Search?

Google’s semantic search attempts to improve on the search formula intended to produce relevant search results for web users by creating rules that define a searcher’s intent and the contextual meaning of search terms.

Every language harnesses the power of semantics to define, clarify, process, and change the meaning of words or words in combination. Since language is the tool that the everyday web user employs to scour the boundless frontier of sites and pages on the Internet, it only makes sense that Google’s inimitable search algorithm would begin to evolve just as language does.

So how does Google develop ways to emulate the intricacies of language? Most of what happens at Google offices is a closely guarded secret, but we can certainly make educated assumptions based on the state of current semantic search capabilities and how they fit into indexing and organizing the web.

What is Semantic Search Technology?

Google is not the only company working on a semantic search engine. Specialized database searches and site-search tools also take advantage of semantics to make sure they are operating at their optimal efficiency and customers don’t drop off when they can’t find what they’re looking for.

Semantics is born of thousands of minute neuro-processes that work in conjunction to create a final meaning. Fortunately, those innumerable processes fit fairly neatly into a few underlying concepts that developers use to create quantifiable semantics.

Complex Ideologies

These are features of our world that our brain processes instantly and without effort — which means we usually take them for granted. Computers have a harder time than we do nailing these down.

leverage monster demonstrating complex ideologies with green bookContext

There are relevant constraints that help us define a word, phrase, or sentence more narrowly so we can produce a reply that makes sense to our interlocutor. We call these restraints context. Search queries are no different – we expect a reply from the search engine that fits the context of the thing or idea we search for. To recreate context, engine developers rely on data and assumptions.

For example, a search for “virtual reality headset” is most likely submitted by a young person or a tech industry professional, an assumption we can make based on the demographics of searchers. A search for “Etta James” is likely submitted by someone older since we can harness data that says the height of the artist’s popularity occurred in the 1960s.

Search results from a semantic search engine can be refined based on these data and assumptions – as long as the search engine understands them. Marketers are already taking advantage of the importance of context in defining searches by focusing efforts on context marketing, wherein marketers match their target markets with demographics reflected by searches.


If you start talking about oil and how it affects the health of every nation, your conversation partner can probably assume that you mean crude oil. But when a search engine sees the keywords oil and health, it may think that you want to know about how olive oil affects your physical health.

An effective semantic search will strive to guess your intent. A successful system is already visible in countless Google SERPs. If you type “What is it called when you think you have a disease but you don’t?” into a search engine, you will get results for hypochondria. Even though keywords like disease are very ambiguous in this sentence, the engine is still able to parse your intent, among other remarkable things.


Variation in language use can be regional, age-specific, industry-specific, or rely on any number of demographics. Semantic search engines must be prepared for language variation and know how it fits into searches. They have to know that people searching for elevators likely live in North America, but those looking for information on lifts are probably looking for UK-related articles.


From city size to climate, economics to local leadership, countless concepts can affect search results based on location. Google does a fantastic job of indexing and prioritizing business-related searches, and its deep integration with the Maps application is a prime example of how location fits into the semantics of a search.

Linguistic Considerations

Since we rely on typing queries into a search engine in our mother language rather than code, the semantic search engines have to translate what we say into a form it can understand, then produce results based on what it thinks we mean. There are a few phenomena of language used in our search queries that are difficult to reproduce outside of the human brain.


Search engines can make educated guesses about the user’s intent and offer synonyms for keywords, but subtle differences in meaning can produce irrelevant results. Engines must learn what nuances exist between synonyms and how SERPs should be adjusted to reflect those nuances.

Google semantic search understands that money is a broad concept of currency, even though we use it as an analogue to cash in everyday speech. But type cash into Google and you’ll find some handy places to get payday loans or turn your checks into hard currency. Google knows that while we use the terms interchangeably in everyday life, there’s a subtle but important difference when typing either term into a search engine.

Concept Matching

google concept matching with filmLike money, some keywords and queries represent large concepts with subcategories that can be rolled into one term. Searching for film will provide results based on movies because the Google semantic search formula understands that film is now a concept that is deeply intertwined with movies.

Search engines develop a notion of concept matching over time as their idea of relevance evolves. A user may become frustrated if searching for film directs him or her to a SERP that provides places to buy rolls of film, and semantic search engines must learn to anticipate such frustrations by matching concepts.

Natural Language

Long ago, AskJeeves attempted to simplify web searching by creating an algorithm that answered real questions written in natural language. As a focus, the concept never really caught on, but now more and more users are relying on natural language queries to find answers.

To tackle natural language queries, semantic search engines have to assign purpose not only to unusual terms like prepositions (in, on, around) and articles (a, an, the), but they have to learn how groups of words fit together to create abstract concepts. Observe the following natural language search queries:

  • A. I need a place to work out
  • B. I need a place to work out of

The only difference between these two queries is the word of. Because of is a preposition, it carries very little in the way of concrete meaning. However, it holds incredible influence over semantics.

Query A provides results for gyms and answer pages from users who have asked similar questions on forums.

Query B gets confused – it can’t really tell if you’re asking for a place to lift weights or a place at which you can perform your job. To us, the addition of the word of clarifies so much of the searcher’s intent, but to the search engine, of is just too abstract to be able to guess accurately what the user wants. You will still see occasional results for leasable office space, however.

Again, relevance will play a large role in helping define natural language searches. The more people search with natural language and click on what they want to find, the more narrowly semantic search engines will be able to define natural language.

Semantics in a Digital Landscape

Users and developers alike must remember that semantics as a digital feature is still very much in its infancy. It wasn’t long ago that all searches were keyword-based and keyword stuffing was a viable SEO option. However, semantic SEO is on the horizon, and smart inbound marketing teams are already ahead of the curve learning how to maximize research potential and produce quality, informative content in line with semantic goals.

Problems with Semantic Search

Semantic search is far from perfect, but it’s certainly not the fault of developers. The human brain is just too complex and powerful for us to understand its processes in full, so until we do, we can’t quantify what it does and turn it into a carbon copy artificial intelligence – which is a scary concept anyway.


The problem of ambiguity, or flexible meaning in a single word, is also something second language learners struggle with. For instance, the word band can mean “a group of people,” “a strap or belt,” or “a frequency interval.” Even if Google semantic search is able to learn which is the most common meaning its searches are seeking, how can it make sure that those searching for other meanings are still able to discover relevant websites?

Content Saturation

The early days of Google search meant looking for new ways to game the system for Search Engine Optimization experts. Efforts to stuff keywords and appeal to the search algorithm caused a tidal wave of content to hit the Internet, and that content was hardly useful to users as an information source. Even worse, most of that leftover content still exists today.

Some SEOs are also still married to the idea of paying full attention to search engines rather than the user experience when developing content, so the modern algorithm that focuses on quality content marketing has to deal with old and new content that isn’t optimized for it. Data gets confused and relevance is not always clear, and it’s mostly because of the sheer volume of content available on the web.

Semantic search developers who want their engines to take the reins have to deal with confusion from content saturation. Old, poorly designed pages contain unreadable content from which search engines have to parse data. But those engines can’t learn semantics from content that has no meaning. Until semantic SEO catches on, semantic search technology will have to wade through a sea of content debris.

Answers to Personal Queries

an example of a personal query in the google search engineUntil artificial intelligence is so close to our own brain chemistry that it can simulate our senses and draw conclusions based on emotional input (which may or may not be impossible), even a semantic search engine won’t be able to answer questions that require thinking on a personal level. Ask Google What is my future like? and you’ll see an endless list of quizzes that “predict your future.”

The results are simultaneously a testament to Google’s ability to computationally understand language and proof that it’s still a robot. Still, the search engine is using semantics to try to guess what you want from it – just try to simplify the search to my future. Semantic search’s capacity to squeeze more meaning out of your search queries will only advance as search technology moves forward.

Is Semantic Search Worth It?

Yes, semantic search, once it has evolved, will provide a search experience not unlike having your own personal assistant. The search will be able to anticipate your needs based on ideologies and linguistic concepts that you harness in everyday life to gather information from human sources.

While a semantic search engine won’t ever be able to answer questions like “Where was that place I put that thing that time?” without invading your privacy, semantic search developers are working toward a concierge-style semantic search that can process more meaningful information in less time.

So keep searching knowing that each time you submit a query and find the result you need, you’re making a sound contribution to a 100% searchable Internet with semantic search.

Should You Choose Custom Web Design or a Template?

You know that your business needs a website, but what you might not know is whether you should hire a professional web designer or take a DIY approach with an existing website template. There are obvious pros and cons for both: website templates are inexpensive and easy to use but limit your choices when it comes to appearance and functionality, while professional web design is more expensive but allows you to tailor your site to your business.

There’s obviously a lot more to this decision than just price, so I talked with Leverage Marketing’s COO, Matt Hooks, to get his take on cases when a business should use a site template and when they should choose a custom web design.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

When does it make sense for a company to opt for services like Squarespace or Wix, which provide site templates and don’t require coding knowledge?

Building your website through a service like Squarespace is a good option when the budget you have for a new website is less than about $5000, all you need is, say, 5 or fewer pages, and you already have graphics you want to use for your site. Templated sites can be great for the person or company that just wants a relatively simple website, has the time to bang around and figure things out for themselves, and either has a website that they’re going to mimic or has an eye for design.

When does it make more sense for a company to opt for a custom website design?

It makes more sense when the site is more than merely informational. Extending a templated site requires third party plugins. This leads to security vulnerabilities, relying on plugin creators to update the plugin, potential compatibility issues, and more maintenance. Creating a custom website gets rid of these issues.

How long does it usually take to build a custom site vs. a template site?

The most accurate answer is: it depends. People that choose a template site generally do so because their website is going to be fairly basic and not feature-filled, thus this type of website should be fairly quick. It’s when they try to add additional functionality or features that their timeline can really get away from them.

The amount of time it takes to complete a custom website generally depends on a few factors, including the desired design, integrated tools, and quality assurance. The actual amount of time can be from weeks to months.

What are some of the limitations of website templates?

If you’re starting from a template, you’ll likely find that you cannot get your website to look just how you want it. You’ll end up spending more time than you’d hoped looking for workarounds to accomplish certain looks that you’re after.

We don’t sell “template” sites because, invariably, there are alteration requests, and before long the cost of a “template” site is more than a custom site. There are other reasons we avoid templates, including update issues, feature bloat, viruses, and the possibility of the theme creator going out of business.

What is included in a typical custom website design?

We offer graphics (some or all depending on what is needed and budgeted), layout mockups (often designed in Photoshop first to nail down the look), iterative changes, custom code, page templates that we create based on your specific needs, keyword research, content (we use your content or have an amazing team of writers available), redirects from old pages to new pages (if applicable), integrations with your CRM, quality assurance review, and more.

What content management system (CMS) platforms are best for a new website?

We love WordPress for most websites, but at some price and customization levels, other platforms are better options. For example, a small ecommerce store will do fine on a Woocommerce/Wordpress website, but a large website with many thousands of products and constantly changing prices and inventory would be better-suited to a different platform, perhaps one that is natively integrated with other services the business uses. A reputable company will be able to walk you through many options and their pros/cons to help you decide what platform is best for your specific situation. 

What are the pros and cons of an open source CMS platform like WordPress?

Pros are that this type of platform is highly extendable, reasonably priced, can accommodate many looks and feels, and are easy to update without any coding experience, in most cases. Cons are that it can be vulnerable to security breaches if precautions aren’t taken and will require updates.

After a custom website design is completed, who hosts and owns the final product?

We offer many options based on what is desired by our clients. We can host your website ourselves or we can provide recommendations for a host. Regardless of whether we host or not, we backup, transfer the website, add security features, and offer continued maintenance packages. You own your website and all your information.

To learn more about custom web design services, contact Leverage Marketing.