Expert-level email metrics that will help you craft smarter, better campaigns

Open rates matter, but dig deep into your list composition, lifecycle engagement and messaging mix to elevate your inbox game. 

Overlooked email metrics

The road to email success starts by determining which metrics matter most to you.

One question I habitually ask clients is, “What metrics do you use to measure and improve your email marketing performance?” The answers vary, but they typically cluster around:

Email service provider campaign-level rate metrics. Open rates, click rates, click-to-open rates, etc. Clients are typically looking to improve these metrics over what they have achieved in the past. Usually these metrics are aggregated across campaigns.

Business attribution metrics. What percent of sales or registrations can be attributed to email actions? Clients often use “last-click” attribution methods, though they do use other strategies as well.

Subscriber health/engagement metrics. More advanced marketers also analyze trends in engagement within their subscriber base. What percentage of clients have opened/clicked or taken some other action in the last 30/60/90 days?

These metrics are all useful. However, there are a variety of other items to monitor and measure that can reveal strengths and weaknesses. These include:

Spam folder placement rate. If your message doesn’t make it into the inbox, it cannot drive clicks and opens. Understanding campaign performance is difficult if you don’t know inbox placement rate.

Deleted-before-reading rate. Another term for this would be the “ignore rate.” It’s possible to have a high rate of customers reading—and ignoring—the same campaign. A high ignore rate is a sign of poor segmentation and targeting.

Reply rate. Some mailbox providers appear to use reply rate as a strong signal of user engagement. However, it’s not always clear what a high reply rate means for the quality of a campaign. Don’t try to do anything gimmicky to drive more replies—especially if it’s not consistent with your brand and business model. Still, it might be a good idea to switch from a “noreply@” address to an address that is managed and monitored by a person.

Forward rate. The number of emails that are forwarded to others is a great way to gauge engagement. If the content you’re sending is interesting enough to forward on to others, your subscribers clearly think you’re doing something right.

More deep-cut metrics to monitor

In addition to campaign-based metrics, there are alternative metrics that I’d suggest reviewing to understand program-level performance. These include:

List composition. What percentage of your list is made up of active email addresses that interact frequently with commercial email? How does that compare to other brands in your industry?

A list made up of active addresses will almost always outperform a list composed mainly of secondary/inactive accounts. If you have a relatively “‘dead” list, it’s time review your address quality and acquisition sources.

Lifecycle engagement. What percent of your list is active when viewed by “weeks on list”? When does subscriber activity fall off? How does that compare to others in your market?

If there is an obvious drop in engagement during a client’s subscriber lifecycle, try to find where the disconnect is taking place. Analyze competitors with better activity curves than yours to see what they are doing, and do your best to mimic it.

Messaging-type mix. What percentage of your messages are triggered/contextual versus campaign-based? How does that compare to others in your market? What kinds of triggered messaging are you missing? How are your campaigns and triggered messages performing relative to other brands?

Understanding the answers to these questions gives you a good understanding of where to make improvements to your email program.

Frequency and read rate. Compare the number of messages you send per subscriber, per week relative to other brands, and see how that affects read rate, reads per subscriber per week and overall list activity (percent of list “active” in last 30/60/90 days). Although it’s a somewhat complex comparison, you can frequently determine whether you are outside the optimal range for frequency.

What do you think? Which metrics do you find particularly useful that most email marketers ignore?

George Bilbrey is president of Return Path. A version of this post first appeared on Media Post.

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