How we increased Online Event Registrations by 200% with a 3-Email Reminder Formula

Terry Ibele 04 May 2016 13 comments

Email ReminderBecause we host a webinar every single month, we've tested out dozens of reminder emails to maximize registrations. This is our best strategy, which has increased registrations over 200%.

While we use this strategy to maximize online event registrants (webinars), you can also apply this formula to many other situations. Event reminders, renewal reminders, reminders to members to update their info, etc.

Every month Wild Apricot hosts at least 1 free webinar that Lori and I promote to all our email subscribers. 

If you're not familiar with our webinars, we recruit some of the most well-known nonprofit experts in the sector (such as John Haydon, Beth Kanter, and Dr. Rick Lent) to share their strategies on how to run a membership-based organization more effectively.

One of our goals every time we host a webinar is to maximize registrants.

And because we have at least 1 webinar a month, we send a lot of email reminders.

It's been the perfect opportunity to test out:

  • how many emails we should send
  • when we should send them
  • what each email should contain. 
And while the formula we've discovered isn't perfect, it works really, really well. So well, that regardless of the topic or speaker we bring in, we can always expect a consistent amount of registrants.

Here's what we've learned.

(by the way, I've summarized all the main points in this article in a guide for creating email reminders for online events)

Send 3 Email Reminders to Maximize Attendance

Each expert webinar presenter also promotes the webinar to their list, so the stats I'm showing are only for the emails that I can control and not based on total registrants, because some registrants come from the expert's list.

Take a look at this summary chart of the registration averages based on how many email reminders we sent to our list.

 Number of Email Reminders   Average Registrants  Percentage increase over 1 email reminder
 1 email reminder only 256
 2 email reminders 474  +85%
 3 email reminders  807 +215% 
 4 email reminders 798 +212% 

Notice that there's no significant increase when 4 reminders are sent versus 3?

Does this matter? Should you send 3 or 4 emails?

I'd say 3. As the saying goes, less is more.


It's better to be concise, than keep emailing people who may have decided that they don't want to sign up.

Plus, good things come in 3!

This is a good time to note that the first email sent explains what the online event is really well, so that people know whether or not they want to attend.

Okay, so this answers the question of how many, now...

Email Template for Online Events

When to Send Your Email Reminders

Lori and I have tested sending out reminders anywhere from an hour before the event to 11 days before the event.

We've also tested out different times of day and different days of the week.


Here are the basic results:

 Email  Day Sent
 Average Registrants as % of Total Registrants
 1  2 Days Before Event to 11 Days Before Event  42%
 2  Day Before Event  29%
 3  Day of Event  29%

On average, 42% of attendees signed up anywhere from 2 days to 11 days before the event, whereas 29% signed up the day before the event, and 29% signed up the day of the event.

So if 100 people are going to register, I can expect...

  • 42 will sign up a week before...
  • 29 will sign up the day before...
  • 29 will sign up the day of.
A few things come to note here.

For one, there wasn't a significant difference in sending the 1st email 2 days before the event or 11 days before the event.

Since our webinars occur online, people can quickly move around their schedules at the last minute since they only have to be sitting at their computers.

Plus, we also promise a free recording of the webinar in case people miss it. This causes more people who might be busy during the webinar window to sign up.  

However, we've made it a best practice to send out a reminder email the week before to give people a chance to figure out their schedules or share it with their network.

Another interesting thing was that the time of day didn't have a significant impact on registrants. It didn't matter if we sent an email at 9:30 am or 4:30pm, however we aim not to send emails too close to the end of the business day, or on weekend.

Based on our analysis...

The best way to maximize online webinar attendance without overdoing it is to send 3 email reminders: 
  • 1 email the week before. 
  • 1 email the day before. 
  • 1 email the day of.
The next question is: What should be in your email?

Subject Lines Matter The Most!

You'd think that every email should contain a unique message, however we've noticed no correlation between sign ups and the contents of the email.

In fact, we've learned not to spend any time rewriting the copy and we literally keep the contents of the email identical.

The hardest part about reminding someone about an online event is just getting them to read the subject line. If we can do that, we've already won the battle.

Take a look at this email decision tree I've created. Notice that by providing a recording, we've added an option for people with scheduling conflicts to still sign up.

email decision tree

From our tests, the one major thing that's made a difference in the actual email message is the subject line.

The subject line.

Within the subject line itself, there are two things that matter:
  • time of the event
  • that it is a Free Webinar.
You'll notice that all our webinar invite emails always start the same way

"Next Thursday. Free Expert Webinar..."
"On Tomorrow! Free Expert Webinar..."
etc.

These two things (time and free webinar) stand out in a long list of unopened emails.

The time tells people how urgently they need to open the email, and "Free Expert Webinar" tells them what it is.

We have found that the topic of the webinar does matter somewhat (certain topics are more popular than others), but the most important bit is that it says "Free Expert Webinar". 

Since "Free Webinar" doesn't change, the only thing that changes is the urgency of the date. We typically use:

  • Next [Date]
  • On Tomorrow!
  • Today!
This also lets someone who may be interested know how much time they have left to sign up.

I've outlined all these tips, and even included a template for you to work off of and some example emails in a short guide, which you can download here.

How to Structure the Body of the Email Reminder

As for the actual email message, we've also formulated what we've found to work best.

We've tested out a lot of things to learn how to maximize click-through rates within the email:

  • buttons
  • links
  • copy
  • length
  • all text emails
  • all image emails
  • and many other things including the email signature and even a P.S. at the end.
One thing we've discovered (surprise, surprise) is that people don't read.

Once they've opened the email, they're looking for basic information that they want right away:

  • Topic
  • What they'll learn
  • Time
  • Date.
Here is the formula we've found to work best to convey all this information and maximize click-through rates:
  1. A large image with the title of the webinar (and/or presenters)
  2. The time of the webinar
  3. The name of the webinar as a link to the registration page
  4. A longer description of the webinar with another text link
  5. 3-4 short bullet points as a summary of the key take-aways from the webinar
  6. A large "save my seat" button that links to the registration page
  7. The time and date directly below the sign up button
Here's an example of an email reminder that follows this format:
 Day of Event

webinar email

Apply this Strategy to Your Events, Renewals, and More

Next time you see an email from us about an upcoming webinar, you'll know our strategy! 

Don't think of this strategy for webinars only. You can apply this strategy to any online reminder, or event you need to send out.

Just remember this simple formula: 3 emails: 1 week, 1 day, and the day of.

I've prepared a short guide on all this and even included a template with some examples for you to work off of. You can download it here.

It Only Starts Here

As I said before, there are many other types of online events you can apply this strategy to. Once you do, it's important to start analyzing your own email campaigns to optimize them for your unique members.

Email Template for Online Events

Get a Special Report on Simplifying Membership Management

Enter your email and receive this special report in your inbox.
Terry Ibele [Learning Apricot]

Posted by Terry Ibele [Learning Apricot]

Published Wednesday, 04 May 2016 at 2:30 PM

Get a Special Report on Simplifying Membership Management

Enter your email and receive this special report in your inbox.

Comments

  • Anna said:

    Thursday, 05 May 2016 at 2:41 PM
    Thanks, Terry! This is very helpful information presented in a concise, easy-to-implement fashion!
  • Mike Hamilton said:

    Thursday, 05 May 2016 at 2:46 PM
    this doesn't sound like it would be applicable to an all day or multi-day program with a substantial registration fee, where most members have to plan travel and spend one or more nights on the road. Decisions have to be made far in advance, and the details of the program, especially the multi-day programs, are too complicated to describe in a single message. We typically announce the date about three months in advance and start promotion two months before the event, sending an average of one message a week, with a register button on the bottom of the page for other messages, as well. Does this make sense?
  • Terry Ibele [Learning Apricot]

    Terry Ibele [Learning Apricot] said:

    Thursday, 05 May 2016 at 3:28 PM
    Hi Anna, thanks for your comment! Let me know how your reminder emails go.
  • Terry Ibele [Learning Apricot]

    Terry Ibele [Learning Apricot] said:

    Thursday, 05 May 2016 at 3:42 PM
    Hi Mike,

    You're definitely right. Our strategy works for free (1-hour) online webinars, but people need much more lead time with an in-person, or longer event.

    Have you been tracking the registrations you get from each email? I wonder if sending more emails would help you get more registrants, or if you're already sending enough? You could look into your history of emails and see the open and click through rates from past events.
  • Mary Adams said:

    Friday, 06 May 2016 at 4:35 PM
    Terry - I know it's easy to see opens and clicks in the email log. Is this how you got your data on registrations or is there another place where we can easily gather data?
  • Terry Ibele [Learning Apricot]

    Terry Ibele [Learning Apricot] said:

    Friday, 06 May 2016 at 5:28 PM
    Hi Mary,

    Great question! Open and clicks within the emails is one part of what we analyzed. We used GoToWebinar to host our webinars, which allowed us to see how many people registered for each one.

    Opens and clicks are still very important for optimizing your email subject line and copy.

    A great subject line is step 1. Great email copy is step 2. Actually signing up for the event is step 3.
  • Debra Gibson-Welch said:

    Friday, 06 May 2016 at 6:24 PM
    Although this may not help in all or different types of events, the basic information your research provided is extremely helpful when planning around events. I really appreciate this, thanks so much! Very helpful!!
  • Terry Ibele [Learning Apricot]

    Terry Ibele [Learning Apricot] said:

    Saturday, 07 May 2016 at 8:52 AM
    Hi Debra,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I'm happy you've found this useful. Feel free to suggest any other topics you'd like to see covered. :)
  • karabo said:

    Friday, 13 May 2016 at 10:42 PM
    these is good staff
  • Carl Kruse said:

    Monday, 23 May 2016 at 6:08 PM
    A seriously useful article Terry, thank you.

    But from the numbers you posted, it seems that sending out an email reminder for the fourth time would be helpful, no? Not sure I understand why to cut it off at 3 sends, other than not to come across as bothering people.

    Cheers!
    Carl Kruse
  • Terry Ibele [Learning Apricot]

    Terry Ibele [Learning Apricot] said:

    Monday, 23 May 2016 at 6:28 PM
    Hi Carl,

    I'm really glad you found this useful. If you know anyone else who could benefit from this article, feel free to share it :)

    As for the 3 vs 4 emails, we didn't see much of an increase in registrants when we sent an additional email. We took this to mean that most people who wanted to attend only needed 3 reminders. As such, we'd rather use that extra email to tell our list about a different initiative we have coming up.

    That being said, I'd encourage you to experiment with your own reminders. Every audience is different, so you might find different results than we did.
  • Leslie McWhirter said:

    Thursday, 04 August 2016 at 12:05 PM
    Thanks for this information Terry! We typically send out one email a week before our webinars, but I will give the 3 email format a try. GroupMail (which is what we use for our emails) offers a few stats like how many people open the email, so we should be able to tell if this works for us. One thing I'm interested in is how you decided that having "Free Webinar" versus just "Webinar" in the subject line is a good idea. Do you have stats on how many emails get sent to spam, since it's my understanding that many emails with "Free" in the subject line get caught up in Spam filters, and if not people see that word and ignore or delete those emails. Another thing I'm curious about is whether or not you've tried any other form of advertising other than emails, and how that has added to registration. For example, we use popups within our programs and an announcement section on our website to promote webinars as well. Have you found things like that to work?

    Thanks!
    Leslie
  • Terry Ibele [Learning Apricot]

    Terry Ibele [Learning Apricot] said:

    Friday, 05 August 2016 at 11:40 AM
    Hi Leslie,

    Thanks for writing and great questions.

    We don't have stats on how many of our emails go to Spam, but if you're on a contact's safe sender list, then you shouldn't have to worry.

    Another tip that could work for you: check which emails addresses didn't open the email, and send to them again with a different subject line.

    As for other forms of advertising, we do. We have notifications in our product, as well as on various pages on our site and on social media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn). We haven't tried popups for webinars specifically, but they likely would work best on high traffic pages. The biggest advertising success that we see is when we ask our presenters to email their lists about the webinars. Sometimes we partner with other organizations who serve nonprofits and have them email their list too.
Sorry, this blog post is closed for further comments.