Using Email Metrics to Determine Success

Jacob Brain


Now that you’re using metrics to track data in your account, you’ll want to understand what it all means so that you can make informed decisions about your next steps. It’s important to know whether your money is being spent effectively and in the right place, and if the content in your emails is working. These two questions can be answered by looking at various metrics inside your email account. We’re going to use Campaign Monitor for screenshots from the system that I provide to my clients as an example of what can be done with email metrics. There are three email metrics that help us derive value: Open rate, which is the estimated amount of views on an email, click-through-rate (CTR), which measures clicks of various links inside the email, and unsubscribes and subscribes.

Open rate is often the most confusing metric you’ll come across. This rate can be somewhere between 10-50%, which is startling at first because we expect that the majority of our emails are actually opened. Even with today’s technology, truly tracking the opens is a challenging task. The current systems can only track through the use of an embedded image or some kind of linking content and most email clients do not automatically download content from emails. It’s a very hard task to actually see who downloads the content and who trips that switch to register a view. Typically, the open rate has found some commonalities based in brackets, looking at the chart below you can see based on industry what the typical open rates are for various communication types based on industry.

Industry Open Rate
Agriculture and Food Services 23.94%
eCommerce 14.98%
Professional Services 19.77%
Real Estate 18.48%
Retail 17.80%
Travel and Transportation 14.50%
Software and Web App 15.57%
Media and Publishing 18.43%
Consulting 16.32%
Business and Finance 15.47%

Take from MailChimp Dec 2010 report

Once you’ve collected enough data to establish a baseline or average of your open rate, you can start comparing your open rates against themselves, so each email with different open rates can help determine the average. Once your have that baseline, you can establish goals to extend that open rate to a higher level. Going forward, you want to use the open rate as your own personal bench mark in terms of what the open rate should be for your emails to generate success rather than worrying if you’re getting better opens than your competitors. You can always increase the success by varying content such as coupon emails vs. newsletter based emails vs. status based emails and evaluating what kind of open rate you’re getting from those different message types.

If your open rate is very low, there are a few things to consider.

  • There could be a technical issue with your email itself. Make sure it’s not being marked as spam.
  • HTML compliance issues could prohibit it from being viewed.
  • Look at your subject line information and who it is coming from, these are both culprits of unopened emails.

If your open rate is higher than the industry average, celebrate! You’re doing a great job of generating accessible content that is timely for your users and creating the opens you desire.

The next metric we’ll look at is click-through rate, or CTR, clicks from the email to some other destination based on the web such as printable versions of a coupon or other pages on your Website. The value of this is to gain traffic to the next stage in the call-to-action. The point of the click through is that you’ve got a captive audience in your email list that you want to activate to drive toward certain promotions and move the traffic back to your Website. For example, if you are doing a one month promotion and you plan to send out three email blasts, you may use different linking strategies – one clickable download of a coupon, and one link to the Website. Then you may be able to track the difference between those and see what is more successful as well as the overall traction percentage of people getting to that content. Any time you can, you want to make sure you links are being tracked in Google Analytics, so you can watch the stats on your ¬†account to see how successful your emails are and what kind of traffic they’re getting after they go from the email to your Website.

Unsubscribes and subscribes are good metrics to see if your email list is growing. Many email systems allow for forwarding of your emails. This could be a great way to increase your reach by advocating your emails to be forwarded to grow your audience. In the same way, watching the unsubscribes is a great indicator if your messages are not presenting value to your email list. If you ever experience a consistent fallout from your email list, you should stop immediately to review what messages might have contributed to that action. Also, if you have the ability to perform an exit interview when someone unsubscribes, you can learn a lot.

Followers and other secondary calls to action. You always want the initial value proposition to be your main promotion or call to action. Secondary calls to action are always beneficial – these could be following you on Facebook, or Twitter, subscribing, forwarding the email to other people. You may be able to develop trends or push secondary calls to action to be a primary call to action in the email. Never send emails without key goals and a marketing plan for each email blast so you can evaluate the success and manipulate the options you have such as content placement, link strategy, copy and imagery inside the email to better optimize that promotion.

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