What if Your Mailing List Had a 60% Click-Through Rate?

One number explains why marketers are crazy for chatbots.

If you’ve ever run a mailing list, you know the numbers: Getting five percent of recipients to click on a link — that is, to do something beyond reading your message — is considered a big win. Publishers who send out news and feature links, like the Washington Post’s several daily mailings, average just over a 12% response for each message (We don’t have the WaPo’s numbers, but 15% is considered doing well among publishing friends who compare notes.)

What’s the click-through rate (“CTR” among mailing list managers) for messages from a bot? Buried in a new guide from Octane AI, which publishes Chatbots Magazine, is a stat we’ve been waiting for someone to stand by in public: 15 to 60 percent of people who receive a message from a Messenger chatbot with a link to an external URL click the link.

Speaking as a non-profit’s mailing list manager: That’s insane. No way.

Way. The data we’ve gotten to see easily supports it. Unverified reports from marketers on Kik and Snapchat say it’s not only a Messenger phenomenon.

Why are chatbot click rates so high?

Chatbot users are more engaged

Especially with younger users, email isn’t something they’re eagerly poring through, checking every beep. Email was once considered the ultimate in timely one-to-one communication, but those days are gone. It’s the DMs that people read immediately — there are other stats floating around that say most chatbot click-throughs happen within ten minutes of receipt.

Chatbot followers have opted in for real

On Messenger, Facebook has strict rules, which the company constantly refines, on what a bot can send to who under what conditions. Most importantly, a Messenger user must interact with your bot before your bot can send them a message:

“A person must initiate contact with a business or developer, such as by clicking on the “Get Started” button in the Welcome Screen, clicking on a “Send to Messenger” plugin, or sending a message. People have the option to block or mute a conversation with a business or developer at any time.” — Facebook Messenger platform policies

A Messenger user who gets a message from your bot has at least tried to talk to it in the past, and could have easily cut it off already.

By contrast, mailing lists that claim to be “opt-in” are an Internet joke. Never mind the unthinking, ruthless spam (the term came from a Monty Python sketch) sent to every address imaginable. Even earnestly targeted mailing lists tend to be padded with recipients who unwittingly subscribed while making a purchase, or who were added to a database without being asked, in a hopeful guess at their interests. (Thanks for the political outrage alerts, everyone.)

Email marketers are usually willing to take a chance at iffy customers, to get more potential respondents on their list. But that sends overall response rates way down. Facebook and others are being careful not to ruin their messaging customers’ experiences by letting anyone contact anyone — especially advertisers.

The result: A much, much larger fraction of people who receive a message from a chatbot might actually be interested in what it has to say. This is a big reason why the bots’ response rates compared to email — or to regular Facebook pages, which average less than one percent — are so, so much higher.

The medium hasn’t been overrun yet

“Right now, a Facebook Messenger inbox is what an email inbox was before the spammers got to it,” Interscope digital marketing chief Chris Mortimer told The New York Times.

Does any business or special interest group not have a mailing list today? Your dentist, your dry cleaner, that realtor you talked to once five years ago … by contrast, few businesses have a chatbot yet.

A message from a chatbot doesn’t have to focus on getting people to click. But at the same time, it needs to be worth the time and attention they’re likely to give it.

That won’t last. Advertisers are good at their jobs — identifying the best place to get your attention, and getting into that spot. In America, they once made newspapers into money-printing machines. When the national freeway system was built, they wallpapered the scenery with billboards until laws were passed to stop them. They got broadcast TV to interrupt its shows, even movies, with their 30-second spots. They stuffed websites with so many disruptions that even children install ad blockers. The only reason ads aren’t on your car’s dashboard is auto makers’ reluctance to kill their own customers. Ask a savvy ad exec: Driverless cars are gonna be awesome.

So despite Facebook’s restrictions on commercial messaging, what happens when nearly every chatbot in existence is an adbot? Take it from a guy who works for a bot maker: Marketers who send too many messages will see those sky-high click rates crash. They’ll find themselves blocked by the same people who had eagerly signed up.

A message from a chatbot doesn’t have to focus on getting people to click. But at the same time, it needs to be worth the time and attention they’re likely to give it.

The most creative marketers will craft experiences that their target audiences enjoy and seek out, and forego CTR reports to integrate what they consider “conversions” — customer purchases, signups, etc., that are the end goal — right into the chat experience. Facebook will surely adapt its rules, to guard Messenger from becoming the next big thing people block. But as chatbots continue to multiply, those crazy click rates will inevitably run up against the laws of physics: We can’t click on everything.

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