E-mail Metrics: What Are You Angling for?
E-mail metrics can provide tremendous insight, but they also can be incredibly misleading.
Statistics can be made to say just about anything. In this way, e-mail metrics are a little like "MySpace angles." For the uninitiated, "MySpace angles" refer to pictures posted on the site that are taken at appealing angles, specifically to make the subjects appear more attractive than they really are.
E-mail metric "angles" don't help anyone. They might look good in reports, but your e-mail results won't benefit. To understand why, it's important to understand the basics of metrics.
There are four basic measurable actions in an e-mail message:
1. Opens Every e-mail message sent includes a small, invisible image. When that image is accessed or downloaded, an open is recorded. However, people often disable images in their e-mails or pass over messages with images enabled. Both of these scenarios lead to false open reports. What's more, total opens count every time any recipient downloads the tracking image. Unique opens only count the first instance the image is downloaded. If you're using an e-mail service provider, it is important to know how it measures opens.
2. Clicks Clicks usually are a better e-mail metric to watch than opens because they show a specific interest and a related activity. They confirm that some additional activity has taken place, most often a visit to a Web page. To further evaluate click activity, you can use that first click as the starting point and then Web analytics to analyze Web activity by looking where that person went in your Web site, how long he stayed, where he went from there and more.
3. Bounces Bounces show transactional failure with the e-mail address to which you tried to send a message. That failure can be either temporary (soft bounce) or permanent (hard bounce). A soft bounce can indicate that the recipient's e-mail server is busy or that his mailbox is full. A hard bounce can indicate that the e-mail address or domain no longer exists or that the e-mail address was mistyped. In all cases, bounces should be reviewed to maintain list hygiene.
4. Unsubscribes Unsubscribes provide valuable insight into when and how your e-mail marketing effort needs to be revised. People unsubscribe for many reasons. Perhaps you're not sending them relevant content or the material they expected when they opted in. Make sure your ESP offers a field for recipients to tell you why they are unsubscribing.
Now that you know what to measure, here's how to put these metrics to good use.
Look at trends, not blips
While "blips" will give you an idea if something is working, don't rethink or revise your entire campaign based on them. Look at long-term trends to help you understand how recipients feel about the overall campaign, not just a specific message. Compiling data to review trends involves more work, but it enables you to make better long-term decisions.
Use e-mail metrics to your benefit
One of the strengths of e-mail marketing is the instant results it delivers. Use those results to maximize the performance of your e-mail campaign by conducting tests on all aspects of your messages, including subject lines, content, calls to action and landing pages.
Don't get stuck on opens
Open rates are becoming less reliable because preview panes can give false positives and recipients with images disabled can give false negatives. It's important to understand your opens, but don't base your success or failure on them. One recent survey I did for a webinar of 100 business-to-business marketers indicated 50 percent have images turned off as their default.
Pay attention to click categories
Most e-mail messages contain many clickable areas, including company logo, links back to the Web site, specific calls to action, etc. Rather than looking at each link clicked as a separate activity, categorize your links into types of actions. For example: company information, product information or calls to action. This makes analysis more insightful and ensures your messages have the right balance of activity.
Identify segmentation opportunities
E-mail metrics allow you to segment audiences based on open and/or click activity. Segmentation allows you to send very targeted follow-up communications to these audiences.
Don't forget opt-in metrics
While monitoring list attrition, don't forget to watch your list growth. If you have a net address loss, it's time to step up your opt-in processes. Monitor the quality of your different opt-in mechanisms by targeting these groups separately and comparing message metrics across these groups.
Tie e-mail metrics into your marketing strategies
Relate insight you gain from your e-mail metrics to your other marketing efforts. For example, try sending printed mail to people who are not opening your e-mail messages.
Jordan Ayan is founder and CEO of SubscriberMail in Lisle, IL. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.