Email Marketing: Metrics and How to Read Them

Getting an email list and writing great content is only part of the process. After the email goes out, it’s up to you to collect the important metrics that help determine its success. Here are some of the most important metrics you should pay attention to and why:

New Subscriber Rate

Ideally, you should have a goal for how many new subscribers you want to accrue each month. It’s also good practice to pay attention to subscription trends over time. When you see these numbers start to increase or fall off, make sure you find out why.

For examples, if you see an increase in subscribers try to determine the circumstances and find out what makes your content more appealing now. Can you recreate this? If you notice a decrease, was it because interest waned or your CTA is less visible? Do people get the information they want from other sources such as an RSS feed or social media?

Open Rate

This number indicated how many recipients opened your email. However, here’s a point to keep in mind: if the recipient uses an email client that shows a preview of the email, then it may count as an open whether it’s read or not.

Some companies adopted the practice of purging email lists based on the open rate. I don’t agree with this practice because I think that different factors can impact whether or not an email is opened, and none of them necessarily have to do with a lack of interest:

  • A subject line about downloads, new features, or a product could drive the user to open the app or go straight to the website instead.
  • A descriptive subject line may be enough to leave an imprint on the user’s mind, and he may directly visit the website at another time.

Before assuming that users don’t read your email, look for correlating engagement on your website.

Click Through Rate (CTR)

This is the rate at which recipients click the links in your emails. Make sure to pay attention to smaller details like:

  • Are unsubscribe link clicks counted toward your overall CTR?
  • Do your URLs contain some kind of tracker so that you can tell how much traffic was driven to your website?
  • If the CTR is low, what does the engagement rate of your apps or website look like at the time the email was sent out? Users may bypass the links and go straight to the source.
  • If you notice that your CTR is dropping or stays low, make sure you’re hitting the appropriate target audience. Rather than blanket your list with emails, segment your list by demographic and interest to make sure that people receive the emails that best address their needs.

Call to Action (CTA)

The CTA is the engagement. It’s what you want people to do with your emails. This can include clicking through, making a conversion, downloading a whitepaper or app, forwarding the email, or following you on social media.

Like your website, your email CTA should be clearly defined and visible. Avoid burying it in an image; most email programs won’t download images by default. Don’t overwhelm your users either. Make sure to limit CTAs and present them by order of importance. Too many options can overwhelm the reader and increase abandonment.

Bounce Rate

In emails, the bounce rate measures undeliverable emails. There are a number of reasons why an email can’t be delivered including:

  • Unresponsive server
  • Full inbox
  • Invalid email address
  • The ISP labeled your email as spam

Because of potential problems that make the email temporarily undeliverable, don’t assume that every bounced user is a wash unless it happens more than once.

Unsubscribe Rate

This tells you how many people you lose due to unsubscriptions each time you send an email. There are a couple of things you need to be aware of when it comes to unsubscribers.

  • You legally have to give all recipients the option to unsubscribe under the CAN-SPAM act.
  • As counter intuitive as it may sound, it’s in your best interest to make the unsubscribe link as visible as possible to prevent users from giving up and sending your email to a spam folder.
  • Don’t make your readers jump through hoops including logging in and filling out forms (other than a small “why are you unsubscribing” survey). The more frustrated users become by the unsubscribe process, the more likely they are to simply mark the email as spam.

Keeping Your Reputation Spam Free

Why all the concern about spam? Because every ISP keeps track of how often emails from your domain are sent to a spam folder. This contributes to your spam rating and reliability in the ISP’s eyes. The less reliable you are, the more likely the ISP is to bypass the recipient altogether and simply deliver your emails straight to spam folders in the future. A study by Return Path shows that in the second half of 2011, 77% of emails made it to consumers’ inboxes, down from 81% in the first half of the year.

Some ways you can protect your reputation include:

  • Be careful when you buy lists since users are more likely to report unsolicited emails as spam. Some email providers like Exact Target require every member of your list to be opted in and take it very seriously when these complaints start to build up.
  • Don’t flood your email lists with email after email. High or increased volume acts as a red flag to ISPs.
  • Don’t default users into opting in for a mailing list when they fill out a form for something else such a whitepaper download or webinar on your site. This falls into the unsolicited email category. Make sure that users can opt themselves in or that they’re made aware that the form will place them on a mailing list.

Paying attention to your metrics will help you plan and execute successful campaigns. Make sure you follow your subscribers’ actions over time so that you have an idea of trends and usage, and don’t forget to pay attention to the red flags that can get your emails lost to spam.

By Betsy Rainwater

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