Email Marketing: Should You Use Their Name or Not?

3D Bar graphShould you use a person’s name in the first line of an email? I recently tested this with our audience, and you might be surprised by the results.

Keep reading to find out the details…

“Hi, John!” or “Hi again!”?

I’ve always read and heard that I should use a person’s name in the first line of an email. It would look like this, “Hi, John!” or “Hello, John” or some variation.

The idea is that when you use a person’s name, it does a few things:

  • It gets their attention because people like to see their name. In fact, it’s their favorite word.
  • It feels more personal than a general email.
  • It helps you (as the writer) focus on writing to one person instead of a large group.

I’ve gone back and forth on this.

Personally I’ve tried both ways. I’ve used their names, and I haven’t. But I’ve never actually known which was more effective.

The experiment

One of the powerful features you get with Aweber is the ability to do split-testing with an email. Let’s say you’re going to send an email to 1,000 people on your mailing list. Aweber can split the list into two different emails that will mail to 500 people each.

This means you can write two identical emails with only one variation, and see which one performs better.

Here’s what I did:

I wrote an email to my Izzy Video non-member list. At the time it had 7,347 people on it. I set up a split-test using Aweber, which gave me two emails.

Each email had identical subject lines and body text.

The only difference was that email #1 started with “Hi, John!” (in other words, the person’s first name) and email #2 started with “Hi again!”.

Which did better? First, let’s look at what “did better” even means…

What to measure in an email?

There are two main stats I look at: “Open Rate” and “Click-Through Rate”

Open Rate refers to the number of receivers who actually opened the email. (Yes, this is something Aweber can see.)

Click-Through Rate refers to the number of receivers who clicked on a link in the email.

In this case I only had one link in the email, and that link led to a recent post with a free video tutorial.

These are two small conversions that take place. When you write an email, you try to create a good subject line that convinces someone to open an email (conversion #1). Hopefully once they’re inside the email, you’ve written it in a way that convinces them to click on the link (conversion #2).

So, in my test, let’s look at the open rate and the click rate and see what happened.

Here’s a screenshot of my stats for the emails as of Sunday morning at 9:30am. (I sent the email three days ago.)

Table showing open rate stats.

The top email is the one with the person’s name in the greeting. You’ll notice that it had a slightly higher open rate. 2,020 people opened the email with their name in it, whereas 1,975 people opened the email with “Hi again!” as the greeting. This is a small difference, but it’s a 1% spread.

Now let’s look at the click-through rate:

Table showing click-through rate

In this email, there was a big difference in the click-through rate. In the bottom email (with the “Hi again!” greeting), the click-through rate was 2.2% higher than the email with the name in the greeting. That’s a big difference. In this case, it meant 78 more people clicked through to my website.

Could the increase be due to the general “Hi again!” greeting in the email? Maybe. That was the only difference in the two emails.

Another example

Table showing open rate stats.

In this screenshot, you’re seeing the results of a split-test email we sent to the Foolish Adventure audience (you!). The bottom email had the general “Hi again!” greeting, while the top one used the receiver’s name.

Notice that the open rate is 1% higher with the general greeting.

Table showing click-through stats

And the click-through rate is 2% higher using the general greeting.

What does this all mean?

Does it mean you should stop using your receiver’s name in the email? Not necessarily. This isn’t a super scientific test. I only tested this on two emails. If I really want to know, I’ll continue testing this on several more emails.

Also, when I talked to Tim about this, he suggested that maybe it had to do with reader fatigue. In other words, readers are so accustomed to seeing the same greeting in every email, that they become more interested when they see a variation.

Here’s my point: Always test things with your audience. Don’t assume that what works for one person will definitely work for you. Your website and audience is different than mine.

That’s good advice for everyone.

Still, don’t be surprised if my emails greet you with “Hi again!” 🙂

* Links to Aweber are affiliate links.
  • I love this article! Thanks!

  • Marc Spagnuolo

    This is very interesting. I remember when this was mentioned in a previous episode and I commented how it felt odd using a person’s name when you are clearly sending a mass email. While you saw some slight differences in the numbers, I imagine in another round of testing they could very well flip the other way. Perhaps a reasonable conclusions is that it really doesn’t matter? I suppose if your audience is only somewhat engaged and doesn’t even remember signing up for your newsletter, you could get more action using their name. But if your list is “clean” and the subscribers are actively engaged and interested in what you have to say, it probably doesn’t make much difference at all.

    Of course I am talking out of my ass since I never did any testing. 🙂 Curious to see what the results are when you have a few more data points.

    • I still stand by my choice to go with the name first especially if you write to your audience as if writing to an individual. I’ve seen a lot of tests that show the name gets a better response, but I won’t go against the numbers. If my audience responds better to a different salutation, I’m going to use it. But I’ll always be wary of reader fatigue. Once someone gets used to something, you’ve got to change it up a bit to get them to re-engage.

  • Wow, this is kind of controversial! I’ve always thought writing people’s name would actually make them feel closer to you, I think I should start experimenting again!
    Thanks for this share!
    Hope to see you around!

  • A great challenge to commonly held belief. Best practice is not always best at all, a lot of best practice is guidance as to what might be better.

    I’ve run tests using competitions to get interest and engagement but found it actually reduced the marketing objective for the campaigns.

    Just one note on statistical significance, the first result in the blog examples is significant whereas the result for the Foolish Adventure test is not statistically significance, on the sample size it could just be random chance.

  • Charlotte Plott

    I use a program that automatically inserts my clients name when I send a newsletter, or promo. So I know how that works, and when I see my name in a greeting, it doesn’t mean much. However, when I saw the “Hi again”, the greeting felt “friendlier” to me. I certainly have nothing scientific to add to this.

  • I personally haven’t really noticed the greeting.
    I just automatically open anything from you guys first. 🙂

  • noodle soup

    Izzy, how do you have your member and non-member Aweber lists set up? Are they two separate lists, or is it one segmented list?

    • Vince

      I agree with Swen, I like the content so I open the mail and click through it. Content is king and you guys give great content and are sincere!!

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  • Ah, a subject near and dear to my heart 🙂

    Poor Tim has already been the victim of my lashing out on this subject. My feeling as a recipient of an email: If you use my personal name and you are asking for something – I assume you have sought me out as a friend, colleague, or the like. And so my immediate reaction is to respond back in kind. I want to help. I want to respond. To You! But, boy, do I feel betrayed if that email is a mass email. It’s kinda like receiving a thank you card addressed to you individually by someone you assumed a friend – only to find out that that friend mass printed and mailed that same thank you note to everyone else. Maybe I’m an oddball but I have a very strong reaction to this.

    I don’t mind getting a mass email from someone I’ve opted in to follow. Hey, I’m part of the community. I explicitly opted in to follow and fully expect to get the mass mailing. I want it! I want to hear about the latest and greatest from Foolish Adventures and Izzy Video or any other interest I have. I sure don’t expect my name to be used as such an email is for the community which I’m happily a part.

    Your informal test seems to indicate that there really isn’t much difference in either approach. The conclusion for me is that I won’t be severely penalized if I choose to go with my conscience on this. I’ve tried to do the personal name thing after Tim talked about this, but I just felt dirty doing it. Sure, we’re talking about marketing here. But really, do we have to do everything marketing experts say we’re supposed to do? Maybe there is a downside, I don’t know. But in the end, this show is about a lifestyle more than getting rich or making a boat load of money. So, I’m going to make a lifestyle decision for my marketing. Fair?

    You can be assured going forward if you get an email from me that starts with “Hi, Izzy!” it’s meant for you and no one else. I’ll assume the same. 🙂

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