Email Metrics – What to Watch, What to Ignore
Email metrics are critical when you're trying to measure the effectiveness of your email program and to identify when problems occur.
We have all heard the saying: What you measure improves, right?
And yet, when you have too much information, measuring the wrong things can waste time, yield inaccurate results, and hurt your bottom line. This is especially true in email marketing.
By its digital nature, the potential for information overload when evaluating your email marketing campaigns is very real. And the temptation is great to measure the wrong things and become distracted or even mislead into making unprofitable decisions.
For example, many marketers will obsess over the number of unsubscribes after an email promotion. At first glance, it would appear that the number of subscribers who opt out is an important metric. Of course, a massive surge in people leaving your list would be undesirable.
However, there is a truism in marketing that you are probably familiar with which says, love me or hate me, just don’t ignore me.
While you could send out emails that are clinically designed to reduce your unsubscribe rate to near zero by heroically avoiding the mere possibility of offending even a single subscriber, that would most likely harm an even more important metric: your sales rate.
There are many reasons why a subscriber may choose to opt out, including being bored with your emails. That’s just one reason why hyper-vanilla email campaigns are no protection against unsubscribes.
Good marketing is compelling and engaging, but since what pleases and intrigues one person may offend or irritate someone else, there is a distinct possibility that to optimize your conversion rates you will have to accept some level of attrition on your list. And that’s Okay. Done correctly, the rewards far outweigh a modest loss of subscribers who in all likelihood won’t buy from you anyway.
With that said, let’s look at nine email metrics and how you can use them and what their strengths and limitations can be.
Email Metric #1: Number of Opt in Subscribers
How big your list grows can be both an impressive and misleading metric. To illustrate this point, you could simply import the entire white pages listings for Chicago into your list and have 2.715 million unwitting ‘subscribers’.
Of course, if you were to mail these ‘subscribers’, you’d be spamming! So the sheer number of names is a lousy metric by itself.
What matters is the relationship you have with real opt in subscribers. On the other end of the hypothetical scale, if you had a single billionaire on your list who bought everything you wanted to sell, then that would be a highly profitable list of one. The objective is to grow your list with properly targeted subscribers who engage with your emails and buy at least some of your offers.
More is better, yes, but only if they are the right kind of subscribers. There are certainly better email metrics to keep an eye on since in the regular course of promoting your business you should be growing your list over time anyway.
Email Metric #2: How many email messages sent?
When you send out a broadcast it can be useful to keep track of how many messages were sent as a baseline to measure your other results against.In simple terms, if you intended to mail 10,000 people and only 4,500 got sent out then you’d want to take a look at your email software to see if there was a malfunction.
Also, if you have multiple sublists, you can compare the total sent to the number you intended to mail in case one of the sublists was overlooked. Assuming all the emails went out, the number sent will serve as a basis for comparison for the other metrics to gauge that can help you evaluate your results.
Email Metric #3: How many email messages delivered?
This is an often overlooked metric that can reveal a lot about your email marketing. A high deliverability rate is clearly better than a low rate, and if you're seeing deliverability rates below 97-98%, then you may want to start looking into the cause of the problem.
For example, if you have low engagement with your list or perhaps unknowingly have a low reputation score, then your subscribers may stop seeing your emails altogether as ISP’s block their delivery or funnel them into the spam folder.
As with some of our clients, you may find that by attending to your deliverability, your profitability can increase by 20 percent or more, even if you make no changes to your campaigns otherwise.
Oddly enough, most marketers don’t know they can or should monitor their deliverability rates, which makes your delivery rate a metric to pay attention to that can yield significant improvement in profitability.
Email Metric #4: Spam Complaints
Unfortunately, every time you send an email to your subscribers there is the potential for spam complaints, even if you’ve done everything right and everyone on your list is confirmed opt in.
As you can imagine, you don’t want a high spam complaint rate even though some complaints may be inevitable.
While a full discussion of this topic is beyond the scope of this article, there are a few key factors to be aware of on the subject.The bad news is that some people believe that the best way to unsubscribe from a list is to mark an email as spam.
You can potentially minimize this unfortunate tendency by making your unsubscribe link easy to find. Beyond that, you want to make sure to get your relationship with new subscribers off on the right foot. Specifically, you want to set expectations regarding what they can expect and how often you will be sending them email.For example, if they expect an email once a month and start getting daily tips, they may file a spam complaint.
Also, if you mail too infrequently you may expose yourself to higher spam complaints because some subscribers will forget who you are.The best solution is to set expectations on what subscribers can expect and then diligently meet or exceed what you promised. Be aware, a high spam complaint record can reduce your deliverability and get you blacklisted so be sure to educate yourself on this important topic.
Email Metric #5: Bounce Rate
Another email metric that closely relates to deliverability is your bounce rate. There are different reasons why an email may bounce and they are broadly divided into soft and hard bounces. Soft bounces include things like full inboxes and other potentially temporary issues.Hard bounces also include different reasons but they are more serious and potentially more dangerous to your deliverability.Again, this is a topic that goes beyond what we can cover here, but the good news is that there are different codes reported for the different kinds of bounces. So the you can monitor your bounce rate as well as the reasons for the bounces as part of a comprehensive deliverability monitoring system.
Email Metric #6: Opens.
How many opens for a given email campaign is one of the most popular metrics, though less useful that most marketers seem to think. Of course, if no one opens your emails that would be bad, but even if you have a 100% open rate on an email campaign that may mean nothing if no one buys your offer.
Opens can tell you important information about engagement, however. On a basic level, your open rate is a good proxy for how effective your subject lines are. Another level of engagement to consider is that if a subscriber stops opening your emails at all, your engagement will suffer. So you do want to keep track of your open rate and keep an eye on trends to help tell you how your emails are matching up to what your list is expecting. (Resource: How to Get Your Email Opened First)
Email Metric #7: Unopens
As mentioned, you want to keep track of your chronic unopeners. Eventually, ISPs like Gmail will penalize your deliverability if too great a percentage of your subscribers don’t open your emails. So you want to keep track of your chronic unopens to watch for trends.Additionally, you can segment those who don’t open your emails on a given promotion and resend the broadcast to them with a different subject line and track the results. Unfortunately, at some point it will be necessary to segregate folks who simply no longer open your emails so that their lack of engagement doesn’t damage your deliverability.
Email Metric #8: Click through rate
While most marketers tend to focus on how many subscribers open their emails, a metric that can tell you how effective your email copy is will be the click through rate. This measures the number of clicks through the links in your emails.Put simply, you want to track those who bother to not only open your emails, but also to click through to whatever you were offering in the message.Further, you can tack the rate of people who click through from your email broadcast to the sales page, and then how many who in fact buy from there.
After all, a high click through rate from the email doesn’t do you a lot of good if nobody is buying. Though if you have a high open rate and a low click through rate that is an indication that your email body copy or offer need to be tested. Also, if subscribers are opening your emails and clicking through to your offer and still not buying, then you need to look at the copy on the offer page.
You may want to consider having a single destination link for each email promotion. Even if you have multiple products you’d like to promote in a given email, it makes tracking easier if there is but one thing for your subscriber to focus on. While you may mention a unique link multiple times in the body copy, it is generally considered better to only have one destination that you are promoting.
Email Metric #9: Sales
This is the one metric to rule them all. Assuming your refund rates are in line with your expectations, then your sales from your email campaigns are the ultimate metric for how well your campaigns are doing.Of course, the higher your various beneficial metrics are the better.The more subscribers, the more email delivered, the more opens, the more click-throughs, then in theory the more sales you will convert.
Just be aware that even if you have fewer subscribers, lower opens and lower click-throughs, if ultimately you have more actual sales, that’s of greater importance.
More subscribers who don’t buy are not beneficial to your bottom line. More opens without more sales may make you feel better about your subject lines, but if that doesn’t translate into sales it may indicate that you are promoting offers that are not appealing to your subscribers. Over time, if you are not getting sales, then you risk losing your subscribers’ interest.The key things to track, then, are the click through rate and your sales conversions because if people are clicking through and not buying, then that tells you the sales page needs work or you need to match your email copy better to what is being offered.
In conclusion, when it comes to email metrics, the numbers don’t lie but they can hide the truth.
The key is to focus on engagement with your subscribers and to consistently email them with content and offers that truly grow your relationship in a mutually profitable way.
Ultimately, your results and your ROI will benefit most when you focus your attention on the strategies that strengthen that relationship rather than getting distracted by meaningless statistics or being tempted to engage in short term tactics that skew open rates at the expense of long term profitability.
Author: Heather Seitz
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