The email metrics that really matter
Eureka! We’ve got the ultimate answer for what email metrics you should be using.
Ready? Are you sure? OK.
That’s it. Amazing, right?
Snarky commentary aside, if I were to give you a silver bullet list of metrics for measuring your email performance across the board, that would be equal parts unhelpful and misleading.
The way you measure performance should be intrinsically aligned with the type of email you’re sending, the goal for your campaign, and the action you want the reader to take. You need to clearly understand what you’re measuring and why.
Rather than give you a list of metrics to deploy, I’m taking a step back and explaining how to choose the right metrics for each campaign and use the resulting data to adjust.
Let’s get started.
The value of measuring email performance — and how to get it right
As an email marketer, you can spend hours creating a fantastic email campaign that directs people to the most awesome piece of content. Your email might have captivating copy and follow the best practices in design, but without measuring its performance, how can you know what’s working and what’s not? If the email doesn’t achieve what you set out to do, was all that hard work really worth it?
You might think that tracking performance starts with picking metrics, but an important step comes before that: setting a clear goal.
For small campaigns, this can be a quick and easy process. You may need to spend a little longer articulating what you’re striving for in initiatives linked to a broader business goal. However long it takes, you need to think about what your email (or set of emails) is trying to accomplish.
You’ve set a goal — what now?
Once you have a goal in mind, you can then reflect on the specific steps (or micro goals) taken to reach that goal. With these in place, your future analyses can be focused on them.
Let’s use an example of inviting people to a webinar. The goal is to have people register for your webinar. To do that, they need to follow a series of steps:
- Receive an email
- Open that email
- Click on a link in that email
- Visit the registration page
- Fill out a form
Each of these micro goals can (and should) be measured and compared to your benchmarks from similar campaigns. But, the real actionable insights come when you take the analysis one step further. Did any one of these micro goals not perform well? Dive into why.
At this point, you’ll have a hypothesis you want to test. For example, did a solid number of people click your email and land on your page but not fill out the form? Perhaps your hypothesis is that the landing page could be improved. Or the audience you sent the email to could be refined.
With a hypothesis in mind, the real fun starts. Now you can cohort your report into meaningful groups that you think will provide more context. Perhaps you cohort this report (people who landed on your landing page but didn’t fill out the form) by lifecycle stage. Do you notice people who are already talking with sales received the invite but didn’t register? Maybe that’s your answer — the content of the webinar doesn’t resonate with people deep in the lifecycle.
This is only one of many examples, but you can apply this approach to all emails you send. Document your objective and then break that into micro goals.
Are some email metrics better than others?
Again, it depends on what you’re doing. The right email metrics not only vary from brand to brand (a clothing retailer might be interested in different results than an academic institution) but also email to email.
That said, there are some metrics that are worth keeping an eye on for almost every email. Conversion rate and click-through rate are common indicators of how well an email has performed in relation to your goal.
In one email, you might want the reader to download a piece of content and then engage with your brand further. You may want to remind registrants about an upcoming webinar in the next. And then you might have another email that shares an important customer support message that they really should read.
In each case, conversion looks different — but identifying metrics doesn’t stop there.
Campaign creation metrics
Your ability to learn from, analyze, and improve email performance is only as good as the processes that support these initiatives. So, when it comes to improving your emails, an often overlooked but important set of metrics are the ones tied to campaign creation. Why? Because these metrics indirectly tie to your email performance. The quicker you can incorporate learnings and experimentation into your emails (and campaigns, in general), the more you’ll move the needle.
For example, how long does it take you and your team to make an email? Or even better, if you want to incorporate elements of testing into your email, how long does that take? If the answer to either of these is not what you want, then elements of production time are a metric to measure.
You can adopt the same ‘micro goal’ approach here. If your goal is to improve campaign creation time, break the process down into specific steps. And then quantify these steps.
If it takes ten hours to pull a report, hypothesize, analyze results, incorporate changes into a future email and execute, the value of measuring email performance quickly diminishes. If you can do this in one hour, now you’re talking!
At the end of the day, is measuring your email performance worth it if you’re unable to efficiently incorporate learnings into future iterations?
Getting the most out of your email metrics performance data
It’s all well and good to be tracking performance data, but it’s also vital to then use that data to make informed decisions.
Let’s take a closer look at conversion rates, for example. If what you sent resulted in people taking the action you intended, that’s a clear measure of success. However, conversion rate is also a key indicator for determining your return on investment. Is the amount of time and effort invested in this campaign giving you the best value? If the answer is “no,” then it might be time to pivot your strategy.
The unsubscribe rate is another interesting number as it gives you the reverse image of your conversion and click-through rates. It shows you where your messaging isn’t resonating with your audience. Sometimes, that might be because you’re not emailing the right audience, in which case you may want to learn more about your segments and target more specific groups with particular kinds of content.
Open rate tends to be more of a vanity metric, which over time is set to become increasingly hampered by increased mail privacy protection. But does that mean it has no value? In isolation, one email’s open rate performance doesn’t tell that much of a story. But compare open rates for the same audience over time, and it may generate actionable insights.
Generally, I find it unhelpful to try to compare a brand’s open rates with broader benchmarks, as there are a lot of industry- and brand-specific factors that may not be accounted for in a report. Where open rates do become more useful, however, is in internal comparisons with other similar emails and audiences, as the parameters are more consistent.
Setting up a strong email performance reporting program
No matter what metrics you look at, the process of evaluating your email efforts is going to take time. You need to see how different variables impact different situations, and you can’t bombard your audience with multiple emails in a short time to find out. In other words, you’re not going to learn everything overnight.
For example, if you as a marketer or marketing ops person feel that your unsubscribe rate is high, then you need time to reflect on why and test out various scenarios. As you try to better understand your audience and their journey, this is where creativity comes in.
You might try segmenting your email by region or where your subscribers are in their lifecycle. How often do you send that email to that specific audience? Experiment there. Does it go up or down? Does it improve?
If it’s still high, hypothesize more! Take a hard look into how you’re acquiring net new names, their entry point into the system, and what kind of promises you’re making to them in exchange for their email. Let’s say their point of entry is via a webinar, and now you’re sending them an email to sign up for your product or service. Could there be a disconnect between how they first heard about you and how you’re following up with them, prompting them to unsubscribe?
Regardless of where you start, whether it’s with your unsubscribe rate or the conversion rate on your latest campaign, my advice is this: start small, and start simple. Have a clear head, know what you’re after, and push towards that.
Remember, reporting on your email performance and using that data to iterate on your programs are both vital components of a successful marketing capability. Don’t be afraid to set the standard for how things should be done and advocate for best practices where you can.
In the meanwhile, if you’re looking for inspiration on how to get email right, we’ve created the Definitive Guide to Creating Kick-ass Emails.